Chapter II - The First National Dynasty
As the Chinese are still proud to call themselves the sons of Han, it will be understood that the period covered by the Han rulers must be an important epoch in their history, and in more than one respect they were the first national dynasty, When the successors of Tsin Chi Hwangti proved unable to keep the throne, the victorious general who profited by their discomfiture was named Liu Pang. He had been a trusted official of the Emperor Hwangti, but on finding that his descendants could not bear the burden of government, he resolved to take his own measures, and he lost no time in collecting troops and in making a bid for popularity by endeavoring to save all the books that had not been burned. His career bears some resemblance to that of Macbeth, for a soothsayer meeting him on the road predicted, "by the expression of his features, that he was destined to become emperor." He began his struggle for the throne by defeating another general named Pawang, who was also disposed to make a bid for supreme power. After this success Liu Pang was proclaimed emperor as Kao Hwangti, meaning Lofty and August Emperor, which has been shortened into Kaotsou. He named his dynasty the Han, after the small state in which he was born.
Kaotsou began his reign by a public proclamation in favor of peace, and deploring the evils which follow in the train of war. He called upon his subjects to aid his efforts for their welfare by assisting in the execution of many works of public utility, among which roads and bridges occupied the foremost place. He removed his capital from Loyang in Honan to Singanfoo in Shensi, and as Singan was difficult of access in those days, he constructed a great highroad from the center of China to this somewhat remote spot on the western frontier. This road still exists, and has been described by several travelers in our time. It was constructed by the labor of one hundred thousand men through the most difficult country, crossing great mountain chains and broad rivers. The Chinese engineers employed on the making of this road, which has excited the admiration of all who have traversed it, first discovered and carried into execution the suspension bridge, which in Europe is quite a modern invention. One of these "flying bridges," as the Chinese called them, is one hundred and fifty yards across a valley five hundred feet below, and is still in use. At regular intervals along this road Kaotsou constructed rest-houses for travelers, and postal-stations for his couriers. No Chinese ruler has done anything more useful or remarkable than this admirable road from Loyang to Singanfoo. He embellished his new capital with many fine buildings, among which was a large palace, the grandeur of which was intended to correspond with the extent of his power.
The reign of Kaotsou was, however, far from being one of uncheckered prosperity. Among his own subjects his popularity was great because he promoted commerce and improved the administration of justice. He also encouraged literature, and was the first ruler to recognize the claims of Confucius, at whose tomb he performed an elaborate ceremony. He thus acquired a reputation which induced the King of Nanhai--a state composed of the southern provinces of China, with its capital at or near the modern Canton--to tender his allegiance. But he was destined to receive many slights and injuries at the hands of a foreign enemy, who at this time began a course of active aggression that entailed serious consequences for both China and Europe.
Reference has been made to the Hiongnou or Hun tribes, against whom Tsin Hwangti built the Great Wall. In the interval between the death of that ruler and the consolidation of the power of Kaotsou, a remarkable chief named Meha, or Meta, had established his supremacy among the disunited clans of the Mongolian Desert, and had succeeded in combining for purposes of war the whole fighting force of what had been a disjointed and barbarous confederacy. The Chinese rulers had succeeded in keeping back this threatening torrent from overflowing the fertile plains of their country, as much by sowing dissension among these clans and by bribing one chief to fight another, as by superior arms. But Meha's success rendered this system of defense no longer possible, and the desert chieftain, realizing the opportunity of spoil and conquest, determined to make his position secure by invading China. If the enterprise had failed, there would have been an end to the paramounce of Meha, but his rapid success convinced the Huns that their proper and most profitable policy was to carry on implacable war with their weak and wealthy neighbors. Meha's success was so great that in a single campaign he recovered all the districts taken from the Tartars by the general Moungtien. He turned the western angle of the Great Wall, and brought down his frontier to the river Hoangho. His light cavalry raided past the Chinese capital into the province of Szchuen, and returned laden with the spoil of countless cities. These successes were crowned by a signal victory over the emperor in person. Kaotsou was drawn into an ambuscade in which his troops had no chance with their more active adversaries, and, to save himself from capture, Kaotsou had no alternative but to take refuge in the town of Pingching, where he was closely beleaguered. It was impossible to defend the town for any length of time, and the capture of Kaotsou seemed inevitable, when recourse was had to a stratagem. The most beautiful Chinese maiden was sent as a present to propitiate the conqueror, and Meha, either mollified by the compliment, or deeming that nothing was to be gained by driving the Chinese to desperation, acquiesced in a convention which, while it sealed the ignominious defeat of the Chinese, rescued their sovereign from his predicament.
This disaster, and his narrow personal escape, seem to have unnerved Kaotsou, for when the Huns resumed their incursions in the very year following the Pingching convention, he took no steps to oppose them, and contented himself with denouncing in his palace Meha as "a wicked and faithless man, who had risen to power by the murder of his father, and one with whom oaths and treaties carried no weight." Notwithstanding this opinion, Kaotsou proceeded to negotiate with Meha as an equal, and gave this barbarian prince his own daughter in marriage as the price of his abstaining from further attacks on the empire. Never, wrote a historian, "was so great a shame inflicted on the Middle Kingdom, which then lost its dignity and honor." Meha observed this peace during the life of Kaotsou, who found that his reputation was much diminished by his coming to terms with his uncivilized opponent, but although several of his generals rebelled, until it was said that "the very name of revolt inspired Kaotsou with apprehension," he succeeded in overcoming them all without serious difficulty. His troubles probably shortened his life, for he died when he was only fifty-three, leaving the crown to his son, Hoeiti, and injunctions to his widow, Liuchi, as to the conduct of the administration.
The brief reign of Hoeiti is only remarkable for the rigor and terrible acts of his mother, the Empress Liuchi, who is the first woman mentioned in Chinese history as taking a supreme part in public affairs. Another of Kaotsou's widows aspired to the throne for her son, and the chief direction for herself. Liuchi nipped their plotting in the bud by poisoning both of them. She marked out those who differed from her, or who resented her taking the most prominent part in public ceremonies, as her enemies, to be removed from her path by any means. At a banquet she endeavored to poison one of the greatest princes of the empire, but her plot was detected and baffled by her son. It is perhaps not surprising that Hoeiti did not live long after this episode, and then Liuchi ruled in her own name, and without filling up the vacancy on the throne, until the public dissatisfaction warned her that she was going too far. She then adopted a supposititious child as her grandson and governed as regent in his name. The mother of this youth seems to have made inconvenient demands on the empress, who promptly put her out of the way, and when the son showed a disposition to resent this action, she caused him to be poisoned. She again ruled without a puppet emperor, hoping to retain power by placing her relatives in the principal offices; but the dissatisfaction had now reached an acute point, and threatened to destroy her. It may be doubted whether she would have surmounted these difficulties and dangers, when death suddenly cut short her adventurous career. The popular legend is that this Chinese Lucretia Borgia died of fright at seeing the apparitions of her many victims, and there can be no doubt that her crimes did not conduce to make woman government more popular in China.
It says much for the excellence of Kaotsou's work, and for the hold the Han family had obtained on the Chinese people, that when it became necessary to select an emperor after the death of Liuchi the choice should have fallen unanimously on the Prince of Tai, who was the illegitimate son of Kaotsou. On mounting the throne, he took the name of Wenti. He began his reign by remitting taxes and by appointing able and honest governors and judges. He ordered that all old men should be provided with corn, meat and wine, besides silk and cotton for their garments. At the suggestion of his ministers, who were alive to the dangers of a disputed succession, he proclaimed his eldest son heir to the throne. He purified the administration of justice by declaring that prince and peasant must be equally subject to the law; he abolished the too common punishment of mutilation, and had the satisfaction of seeing crime reduced to such low proportions in the empire that the jails contained only four hundred prisoners. Wenti was a strong advocate of peace, which was, indeed, necessary to China, as it had not recovered from the effects of the last Hun invasion. He succeeded by diplomacy in inducing the Prince at Canton, who had shown a disposition to assert his independence, to recognize his authority, and thus averted a civil war. In his relations with the Huns, among whom the authority of Meha had passed to his son, Lao Chang, he strove to preserve the peace, giving that chief one of his daughters in marriage, and showing moderation in face of much provocation. When war was forced upon him by their raids he did everything he could to mitigate its terrors, but the ill success of his troops in their encounters with the Tartars broke his confidence, and he died prematurely after a reign of twenty-three years, which was remarkable as witnessing the consolidation of the Hans. The good work of Wenti was continued during the peaceful reign of sixteen years of his son Kingti.
The next emperor was Vouti, a younger son of Kingti, and one of his earliest conquests was to add the difficult and inaccessible province of Fuhkien to the empire. He also endeavored to propitiate the Huns by giving their chief one of the princesses of his family as a wife, but the opinion was gaining ground that it would be better to engage in a war for the overthrow of the national enemy than to purchase a hollow peace. Wang Kua, a general who had commanded on the frontier, and who knew the Hun mode of warfare, represented that success would be certain, and at last gained the emperor's ear. Vouti decided on war, and raised a large army for the purpose. But the result was not auspicious. Wang Kua failed to bring the Huns to an engagement, and the campaign which was to produce such great results ended ingloriously. The unlucky general who had promised so much anticipated his master's displeasure by committing suicide. Unfortunately for himself, his idea of engaging in a mortal struggle with the Tartars gained ground, and became in time the fixed policy of China. Notwithstanding this check, the authority of Vouti continued to expand. He annexed Szchuen, a province exceeding in size and population most European states, and he received from the ruler of Manchuria a formal tender of submission. In the last years of his reign the irrepressible Hun question again came up for discussion, and the episode of the flight of the Yuchi from Kansuh affords a break in the monotony of the struggle, and is the first instance of that western movement which brought the tribes of the Gobi Desert into Europe. The Yuchi are believed to have been allied with the Jats of India, and there is little or no doubt that the Sacae, or Scythians, were their descendants. They occupied a strip of territory in Kansuh from Shachow to Lanchefoo, and after suffering much at the hands of the Huns under Meha, they resolved to seek a fresh home in the unknown regions of Western Asia. The Emperor Vouti wished to bring them back, and he sent an envoy named Chang Keen to induce them to return. That officer discovered them in the Oxus region, but all his arguments failed to incline them to leave a quarter in which they had recovered power and prosperity. Powerless against the Huns, they had more than held their own against the Parthians and the Greek kingdom of Bactria. They retained their predominant position in what is now Bokhara and Balkh, until they were gathered up by the Huns in their western march, and hurled, in conjunction with them, on the borders of the Roman Empire. Meantime, the war with the Huns themselves entered upon a new phase. A general named Wei Tsing obtained a signal victory over them, capturing 15,000 prisoners and the spoil of the Tartar camp. This success restored long-lost confidence to the Chinese troops, and it was followed by several other victories. One Chinese expedition, composed entirely of cavalry, marched through the Hun country to Soponomo on the Tian Shan, carrying everything before it and returning laden with spoil, including some of the golden images of the Hun religion. Encouraged by these successes, Vouti at last took the field in person, and sent a formal summons to the Tartar king to make his submission to China. His reply was to imprison the bearer of the message, and to defy the emperor to do his worst. This boldness had the effect of deterring the emperor from his enterprise. He employed his troops in conquering Yunnan and Leaoutung instead of in waging another war with the Huns. But he had only postponed, not abandoned, his intention of overthrowing, once and for all, this most troublesome and formidable national enemy. He raised an enormous force for the campaign, which might have proved successful but for the mistake of intrusting the command to an incompetent general. In an ill-advised moment, he gave his brother-in-law, Li Kwangli, the supreme direction of the war. His incompetence entailed a succession of disasters, and the only redeeming point amid them was that Li Kwangli was taken prisoner and rendered incapable of further mischief. Liling, the grandson of this general, was intrusted with a fresh army to retrieve the fortunes of the war; but, although successful at first, he was outmaneuvered, and reduced to the unpleasant pass of surrendering to the enemy. Both Li Kwangli and Liling adapted themselves to circumstances, and took service under the Tartar chief. As this conduct obtained the approval of the historian Ssematsien, it is clear that our views of such a proceeding would not be in harmony with the opinion in China of that day. The long war which Vouti waged with the Huns for half a century, and which was certainly carried on in a more honorable and successful manner than any previous portion of that historic struggle, closed with discomfiture and defeat, which dashed to the ground the emperor's hopes of a complete triumph over the most formidable national enemy.
After a reign of fifty-four years, which must be pronounced glorious, Vouti died, amid greater troubles and anxieties than any that had beset him during his long reign. He was unquestionably a great ruler. He added several provinces to his empire, and the success he met with over the Huns was far from being inconsiderable. He was a Nimrod among the Chinese, and his principal enjoyment was to chase the wildest animals without any attendants. Like many other Chinese princes, Vouti was prone to believe in the possibility of prolonging human life, or, as the Chinese put it, in the draught of immortality. In connection with this weakness an anecdote is preserved that will bear telling. A magician offered the emperor a glass containing the pretended elixir of eternal life, and Vouti was about to drink it when a courtier snatched it from his hand and drained the goblet. The enraged monarch ordered him to prepare for instant death, but the ready courtier at once replied, "How can I be executed, since I have drunk the draught of immortality?" To so convincing an argument no reply was possible, and Vouti lived to a considerable age without the aid of magicians or quack medicines. Of him also it may be said that he added to the stability of the Han dynasty, and he left the throne to Chaoti, the youngest of his sons, a child of eight, for whom he appointed his two most experienced ministers to act as governors. As these ministers were true to their duty, the interregnum did not affect the fortunes of the State adversely, and several claimants to the throne paid for their ambition with their lives. The reign of Chaoti was prosperous and successful, but, unfortunately, he died at the early age of thirty-one, and without leaving an heir.
After some hesitation, Chaoti's uncle Liucho was proclaimed emperor, but he proved to be a boor with low tastes, whose sole idea of power was the license to indulge in coarse amusements. The chief minister, Ho Kwang, took upon himself the responsibility of deposing him, and also of placing on the throne Siuenti, who was the great-grandson, or, according to another account, the grandson, of Vouti. The choice was a fortunate one, and "Ho Kwang gave all his care to perfecting the new emperor in the science of government." As a knowledge of his connection with the Imperial family had been carefully kept from him, Siuenti was brought from a very humble sphere to direct the destinies of the Chinese, and his greater energy and more practical disposition were probably due to his not having been bred in the enervating atmosphere of a palace. He, too, was brought at an early stage of his career face to face with the Tartar question, and he had what may be pronounced a unique experience in his wars with them. He sent several armies under commanders of reputation to wage war on them, and the generals duly returned, reporting decisive and easily obtained victories. The truth soon leaked out. The victories were quite imaginary. The generals had never ventured to face the Tartars, and they were given no option by their enraged and disappointed master but to poison themselves. Other generals were appointed, and the Tartars were induced to sue for peace, partly from fear of the Chinese, and partly because they were disunited among themselves. Such was the reputation of Siuenti for justice that several of the Tartar chiefs carried their grievances to the foot of his throne, and his army became known as "the troops of justice." It is said that all the tribes and countries of Central Asia as far west as the Caspian sent him tribute, and to celebrate the event he built a kilin or pavilion, in which he placed statues of all the generals who had contributed toward his triumph. Only one incident marred the tranquillity of Siuenti's reign. The great statesman, Ho Kwang, had sunk quietly into private life as soon as he found the emperor capable of governing for himself; but his wife Hohien was more ambitious and less satisfied with her position, although she had effected a marriage between her daughter and Siuenti. This lady was only one of the queens of the ruler, and not the empress. Hohien, to further her ends, determined to poison the empress, and succeeded only too well. Her guilt would have been divulged by the doctor she employed, but that Ho Kwang, by an exercise of his authority, prevented the application of torture to him when thrown into prison. This narrow escape from detection did not keep Hohien from crime. She had the satisfaction of seeing her daughter proclaimed empress, but her gratification was diminished by the son of the murdered Hiuchi being selected as heir to the throne. Hohien resolved to poison this prince, but her design was discovered, and she and all the members of her family were ordered to take poison. The minister, Ho Kwang, had taken no part in these plots, which, however, injured his reputation, and his statue in the Imperial pavilion was left without a name.
Siuenti did not long survive these events, and Yuenti, the son of Hiuchi, became emperor. His reign of sixteen years presents no features of interest beyond the signal overthrow of the Tartar chief, Chichi, whose head was sent by the victorious general to be hung on the walls of Singan. Yuenti was succeeded by his son Chingti, who reigned twenty-six years, and who gained the reputation of a Chinese Vitellius. His nephew Gaiti, who was the next emperor, showed himself an able and well-intentioned prince, but his reign of six years was too brief to allow of any permanent work being accomplished. One measure of his was not without its influence on the fate of his successors. He had disgraced and dismissed from the service an official named Wang Mang, who had attained great power and influence under Chingti. The ambition of this individual proved fatal to the dynasty. On Gaiti's death he emerged from his retirement, and, in conjunction with that prince's mother, seized the government. They placed a child, grandson of Yuenti, on the throne, and gave him the name of Pingti, or the Peaceful Emperor, but he never governed. Before Pingti was fourteen, Wang Mang resolved to get rid of him, and he gave him the poisoned cup with his own hands. This was not the only, or perhaps the worst, crime that Wang Mang perpetrated to gain the throne. Pressed for money to pay his troops, he committed the sacrilege of stripping the graves of the princes of the Han family of the jewels deposited in them. One more puppet prince was placed on the throne, but he was soon got rid of, and Wang Mang proclaimed himself emperor. He also decreed that the Han dynasty was extinct, and that his family should be known as the Sin.
Wang Mang the usurper was certainly a capable administrator, but in seizing the throne he had attempted a task to which he was unequal. As long as he was minister or regent, respect and regard for the Han family prevented many from revolting against his tyranny, but when he seized the throne he became the mark of popular indignation and official jealousy. The Huns resumed their incursions, and, curiously enough, put forward a proclamation demanding the restoration of the Hans. Internal enemies sprang up on every side, and Wang Mang's attempt to terrify them by severity and wholesale executions only aggravated the situation. It became clear that the struggle was to be one to the death, but this fact did not assist Wang Mang, who saw his resources gradually reduced and his enemies more confident as the contest continued. After twelve years' fighting, Wang Mang was besieged at Singan. The city was soon carried by storm, and Wang Mang retired to the palace to put an end to his existence. But his heart failed him, and he was cut down by the foe. His last exclamation and the dirge of his short-lived dynasty, which is denied a place in Chinese history, was, "If Heaven had given me courage, what could the family of the Hans have done?"
The eldest of the surviving Han princes, Liu Hiuen, was placed on the throne, and the capital was removed from Singan to Loyang, or Honan. Nothing could have been more popular among the Chinese people than the restoration of the Hans. It is said that the old men cried for joy when they saw the banner of the Hans again waving over the palace and in the field. But Liu Hiuen was not a good ruler, and there might have been reason to regret the change if he had not wisely left the conduct of affairs to his able cousin, Liu Sieou. At last the army declared that Liu Sieou should be emperor, and when Liu Hiuen attempted to form a faction of his own he was murdered by Fanchong, the leader of a confederacy known as the Crimson Eyebrows, on whose co-operation he counted. The Crimson Eyebrows were so called from the distinguishing mark which they had adopted when first organized as a protest against the tyranny of Wang Mang. At first they were patriots, but they soon became brigands. After murdering the emperor, Fanchong, their leader, threw off all disguise, and seizing Singan, gave it over to his followers to plunder. Liu Sieou, on becoming emperor, took the style of Kwang Vouti, and his first task was to overthrow the Crimson Eyebrows, who had become a public enemy. He intrusted the command of the army he raised for this purpose to Fongy, who justified his reputation as the most skillful Chinese general of his day by gaining several victories over a more numerous adversary. Within two years Kwang Vouti had the satisfaction of breaking up the formidable faction known as the Crimson Eyebrows, and of holding its leader Fanchong as a prisoner in his capital.
Kwang Vouti was engaged for many more years in subduing the numerous potentates who had repudiated the imperial authority. His efforts were invariably crowned with success, but he acquired so great a distaste for war that it is said when his son asked him to explain how an army was set in battle array he refused to reply. But the love of peace will not avert war when a State has turbulent or ambitious neighbors who are resolved to appeal to arms, and so Kwang Vouti was engaged in almost constant hostilities to the end of his days. Chingtse, the Queen of Kaochi, which may be identified with the modern Annam, defied the Chinese, and defeated the first army sent to bring her to reason. This reverse necessitated a still greater effort on the part of the Chinese ruler to bring his neighbor to her senses. The occupant of the Dragon throne could not sit down tamely under a defeat inflicted by a woman, and an experienced general named Mayuen was sent to punish the Queen of Kaochi. The Boadicea of Annam made a valiant defense, but she was overthrown, and glad to purchase peace by making the humblest submission. The same general more than held his own on the northern and northwest frontiers. When Kwang Vouti died, in A.D. 57, after a brilliant reign of thirty-three years, he had firmly established the Han dynasty, and he left behind him the reputation of being both a brave and a just prince.
His son and successor, Mingti, was not unworthy of his father. His acts were characterized by wisdom and clemency, and the country enjoyed a large measure of peace through the policy of Mingti and his father. A general named Panchow, who was perhaps the greatest military commander China ever produced, began his long and remarkable career in this reign, and, without the semblance of an effort, kept the Huns in order, and maintained the imperial authority over them. Among other great and important works, Mingti constructed a dike, thirty miles long, for the relief of the Hoangho, and the French missionary and writer, Du Halde, states that so long as this was kept in repair there were no floods. The most remarkable event of Mingti's reign was undoubtedly the official introduction of Buddhism into China. Some knowledge of the great Indian religion and of the teacher Sakya Muni seems to have reached China through either Tibet, or, more probably, Burma, but it was not until Mingti, in consequence of a dream, sent envoys to India to study Buddhism, that its doctrine became known in China. Under the direct patronage of the emperor it made rapid progress, and although never unreservedly popular, it has held its ground ever since its introduction in the first century of our era, and is now inextricably intertwined with the religion of the Chinese state and people. Mingti died after a successful reign of eighteen years in 75 A.D. His son, Changti, with the aid of his mother, Machi, the daughter of the general Mayuen, enjoyed a peaceful reign of thirteen years, and died at an early age lamented by his sorrowing people.
After Changti came his son, Hoti, who was only ten at the time of his accession, and who reigned for seventeen years. He was a virtuous and well-intentioned prince, who instituted many internal reforms, and during his reign a new writing paper was invented, which is supposed to have been identical with the papyrus of Egypt. But the reign of Hoti is rendered illustrious by the remarkable military achievements of Panchow. The success of that general in his operations with the Huns has already been referred to, and he at last formed a deliberate plan for driving them away from the Chinese frontier. Although he enjoyed the confidence of his successive sovereigns, the imperial sanction was long withheld from this vast scheme, but during the life of Changti he began to put in operation measures for the realization of this project that were only matured under Hoti. He raised and trained a special army for frontier war. He enlisted tribes who had never served the emperor before, and who were specially qualified for desert warfare. He formed an alliance with the Sienpi tribes of Manchuria, who were probably the ancestors of the present Manchus, and thus arranged for a flank attack on the Huns. This systematic attack was crowned with success. The pressure brought against them compelled the Hiongnou to give way, and as they were ousted from their possessions, to seek fresh homes further west. In this they were, no doubt, stimulated by the example of their old opponents, the Yuchi, but Panchow's energy supplied a still more convincing argument. He pursued them wherever they went, across the Gobi Desert and beyond the Tian Shan range, taking up a strong position at modern Kuldja and Kashgar, sending his expeditions on to the Pamir, and preparing to complete his triumph by the invasion of the countries of the Oxus and Jaxartes. When Hoti was still a youth, he completed this programme by overrunning the region as far as the Caspian, which was probably at that time connected with the Aral, and it may be supposed that Khiva marked the limit of the Chinese general's triumphant progress. It is affirmed with more or less show of truth that he came into contact with the Roman empire or the great Thsin, as the Chinese called it, and that he wished to establish commercial relations with it. But however uncertain this may be, there can be no doubt that he inflicted a most material injury on Rome, for before his legions fled the Huns, who, less than four centuries later, debased the majesty of the imperial city, and whose leader, Attila, may have been a descendant of that Meha at whose hands the Chinese suffered so severely.
After this brilliant and memorable war, Panchow returned to China, where he died at the great age of eighty. With him disappeared the good fortune of the Han dynasty, and misfortunes fell rapidly on the family that had governed China so long and so well. Hoti's infant son lived only a few months, and then his brother, Ganti, became emperor. The real power rested in the hands of the widow of Hoti, who was elevated to the post of regent. Ganti was succeeded in A.D. 124 by his son, Chunti, in whose time several rebellions occurred, threatening the extinction of the dynasty. Several children were then elevated to the throne, and at last an ambitious noble named Leangki, whose sister was one of the empresses, acquired the supreme direction of affairs. He gave a great deal of trouble, but at last, finding that his ambitious schemes did not prosper, he took poison, thus anticipating a decree passed for his execution. Hwanti, the emperor who had the courage to punish this powerful noble, was the last able ruler of the Hans. His reign was, on the whole, a brilliant one, and the Sienpi tribes, who had taken the place of the Hiongnou, were, after one arduous campaign, defeated in a pitched battle. The Chinese were on the verge of defeat when their general, Twan Kang, rushed to the front, exclaiming: "Recall to your minds how often before you have beaten these same opponents, and teach them again to-day that in you they have their masters."
After Hwanti's death the decline of the Hans was rapid. They produced no other ruler worthy of the throne. In the palace the eunuchs, always numerous at the Chinese court, obtained the upper hand, and appointed their own creatures to the great governing posts. Fortunately this dissension at the capital was not attended by weakness on the frontier, and the Sienpi were again defeated. The battle is chiefly memorable because the Sienpi endeavored to frighten the Chinese general by threatening to kill his mother, who was a prisoner in their hands, if he attacked. Not deterred by this menace, Chow Pow attacked the enemy, and gained a decisive victory, but at the cost of his mother's life, which so affected him that he died of grief shortly afterward. After some time dissensions rose in the Han family, and two half-brothers claimed the throne. Pienti became emperor by the skillful support of his uncle, General Hotsin, while his rival, Hienti, enjoyed the support of the eunuchs. A deadly feud ensued between the two parties, which was aggravated by the murder of Hotsin, who rashly entered the palace without an escort. His soldiers avenged his death, carrying the palace by storm and putting ten thousand eunuchs to the sword. After this the last emperors possessed only the name of emperor. The practical authority was disputed among several generals, of whom Tsow Tsow was the most distinguished and successful; and he and his son Tsowpi founded a dynasty, of which more will be heard hereafter. In A.D. 220 Hienti, the last Han ruler, retired into private life, thus bringing to an end the famous Han dynasty, which had governed China for four hundred and fifty years.
Among the families that have reigned in China none has obtained as high a place in popular esteem as the Hans. They rendered excellent work in consolidating the empire and in carrying out what may be called the imperial mission of China. Yunnan and Leaoutung were made provinces for the first time. Cochin China became a vassal state. The writ of the emperor ran as far as the Pamir. The wealth and trade of the country increased with the progress of its armies. Some of the greatest public works, in the shape of roads, bridges, canals, and aqueducts, were constructed during this period, and still remain to testify to the glory of the Hans. As has been seen, the Hans produced several great rulers. Their fame was not the creation of one man alone, and as a consequence the dynasty enjoyed a lengthened existence equaled by few of its predecessors or successors. No ruling family was ever more popular with the Chinese than this, and it managed to retain the throne when less favored rulers would have expiated their mistakes and shortcomings by the loss of the empire. With the strong support of the people, the Hans overcame innumerable difficulties, and even the natural process of decay; and when they made their final exit from history it was in a graceful manner, and without the execration of the masses. That this feeling retains its force is shown in the pride with which the Chinese still proclaim themselves to be the sons of Han.