The ignominious failure of the usurper Wang Mang to found a dynasty was too recent to encourage any one to take upon himself the heavy charge of administering the whole of the Han empire, and so the state was split up into three principalities, and the period is known from this fact as the Sankoue. One prince, a member of the late ruling family, held possession of Szchuen, which was called the principality of Chow. The southern provinces were governed by a general named Sunkiuen, and called Ou. The central and northern provinces, containing the greatest population and resources, formed the principality of Wei, subject to Tsowpi, the son of Tsow Tsow. A struggle for supremacy very soon began between these princes, and the balance of success gradually declared itself in favor of Wei. It would serve no useful purpose to enumerate the battles which marked this struggle, yet one deed of heroism deserves mention, the defense of Sinching by Changte, an officer of the Prince of Wei. The strength of the place was insignificant, and, after a siege of ninety days, several breaches had been made in the walls. In this strait Changte sent a message to the besieging general that he would surrender on the hundredth day if a cessation of hostilities were granted, "as it was a law among the princes of Wei that the governor of a place which held out for a hundred days and then surrendered, with no prospect of relief visible, should not be considered as guilty." The respite was short and it was granted. But the disappointment of the besieger, already counting on success, was great when a few days later he saw that the breaches had been repaired, that fresh defenses had been improvised, and that Sinching was in better condition than ever to withstand a siege. On sending to inquire the meaning of these preparations, Changte gave the following reply: "I am preparing my tomb and to bury myself in the ruins of Sinching." Of such gallantry and resource the internecine strife of the Sankoue period presents few instances, but the progress of the struggle steadily pointed in the direction of the triumph of Wei.
The Chow dynasty of the Later Hans was the first to succumb to the princes of Wei, and the combined resources of the two states were then directed against the southern principality of Ou. The supreme authority in Wei had before this passed from the family of Tsowpi to his best general, Ssemachow, who had the satisfaction of beginning his reign with the overthrow of the Chow dynasty. If he had earned out the wishes of his own commander, Tengai, by attacking Ou at once, and in the flush of his triumph over Chow, he might have completed his work at a stroke, for as Tengai wrote, "An army which has the reputation of victory flies from one success to another." But Ssemachow preferred a slower and surer mode of action, with the result that the conquest of Ou was put off for twenty years. Ssemachow died in A.D. 265, and his son Ssemachu founded the new dynasty of the Later Tsins under the name of Vouti, or the warrior prince.
The main object with Vouti was to add the Ou principality to his dominions, and the descendants of Sunkiuen thought it best to bend before the storm. They sent humble embassies to Loyang, expressing their loyalty and submission, but at the same time they made strenuous preparations to defend their independence. This double policy precipitated the collision it was intended to avert. Vouti paid more heed to the acts than the promises of his neighbor, and he ordered the invasion of his territory from two sides. He placed a large fleet of war junks on the Yangtsekiang to attack his opponent on the Tunting Lake. The campaign that ensued was decided before it began. The success of Vouti was morally certain from the beginning, and after his army had suffered several reverses Sunhow threw up the struggle and surrendered to his opponent. Thus was China again reunited for a short time under the dynasty of the Later Tsins. Having accomplished his main task, Vouti gave himself up to the pursuit of pleasure, and impaired the reputation he had gained among his somewhat severe fellow-countrymen by entertaining a theatrical company of five thousand female comedians, and by allowing himself to be driven in a car drawn by sheep through the palace grounds. Vouti lived about ten years after the unity of the empire was restored, and his son, Ssemachong, or Hweiti, became emperor on his death in A.D. 290. One of the great works of his reign was the bridging of the Hoangho at Mongtsin, at a point much lower down its course than is bridged at the present time.
The reign of Hweiti was marred by the ambitious vindictiveness of his wife, Kiachi, who murdered the principal minister and imprisoned the widow of the Emperor Vouti. The only good service she rendered the state was to discern in one of the palace eunuchs named Mongkwan a great general, and his achievements bear a strong resemblance to those of Narses, who was the only other great commander of that unfortunate class mentioned in history. Wherever Mongkwan commanded in person victory attended his efforts, but the defeats of the other generals of the Tsins neutralized his success. At this moment there was a recrudescence of Tartar activity which proved more fatal to the Chinese ruler than his many domestic enemies. Some of the Hiongnou tribes had retired in an easterly direction toward Manchuria when Panchow drove the main body westward, and among them, at the time of which we are speaking, a family named Lin had gained the foremost place. They possessed all the advantages of Chinese education, and had married several times into the Han family. Seeing the weakness of Hweiti these Lin chiefs took the title of Kings of Han, and wished to pose as the liberators of the country. Hweiti bent before the storm, and would have made an ignominious surrender but that death saved him the trouble.
His brother and successor, Hwaiti, fared somewhat better at first, but notwithstanding some flashes of success the Lin Tartars marched further and further into the country, capturing cities, defeating the best officers of the Tsins, and threatening the capital. In A.D. 310 Linsong, the Han chief, invaded China in force and with the full intention of ending the war at a blow. He succeeded in capturing Loyang, and carrying off Hwaiti as his prisoner. The capital was pillaged and the Prince Royal executed. Hwaiti is considered the first Chinese emperor to have fallen into the hands of a foreign conqueror. Two years after his capture, Hwaiti was compelled to wait on his conqueror at a public banquet, and when it was over he was led out to execution. This foul murder illustrates the character of the new race and men who aspired to rule over China. The Tartar successes did not end here, for a few years later they made a fresh raid into China, capturing Hwaiti's brother and successor, Mingti, who was executed, twelve months after his capture, at Pingyang, the capital of the Tartar Hans.
After these reverses the enfeebled Tsin rulers removed their capital to Nankin, but this step alone would not have sufficed to prolong their existence had not the Lin princes themselves suffered from the evils of disunion and been compelled to remove their capital from Pingyang to Singan. Here they changed their name from Han to Chow, but the work of disintegration once begun proceeded rapidly, and in the course of a few years the Lin power crumbled completely away. Released from their most pressing danger by the fall of this family, the Tsin dynasty took a new lease of life, but it was unable to derive any permanent advantage from this fact. The last emperors of this family were weak and incompetent princes, whose names need not be given outside a chronological table. There would be nothing to say about them but that a humble individual named Linyu, who owed everything to himself, found in the weakness of the government and the confusion in the country the opportunity of distinction. He proved himself a good soldier and able leader against the successors of the Lin family on one side, and a formidable pirate named Sunghen on the other. Dissatisfied with his position, Linyu murdered one emperor and placed another on the throne, and in two years he compelled his puppet, the last of the Later Tsins, to make a formal abdication in his favor. For a considerable portion of their rule they governed the whole of China, and it is absolutely true to say that they were the least worthy family ever intrusted with so great a charge. Of the fifteen emperors who ruled for one hundred and fifty-five years there is not more than the founder whose name calls for preservation on his own merits.
Although Linyu's success was complete as far as it went, his dynasty, to which he gave the name of Song, never possessed exclusive power among the Chinese. It was only one administration among many others, and during his brief reign of three years he could do nothing toward extending his power over his neighbors, although he may have established his own the more firmly by poisoning the miserable Tsin emperor whom he deposed. His son and successor, Chowti, was deposed and murdered after a brief reign of one year. His brother Wenti succeeded him, and he was soon drawn into a struggle for power, if not existence, with his northern neighbor the King of Wei, who was one of the most powerful potentates in the empire. The principal and immediate bone of contention between them was the great province of Honan, which had been overrun by the Wei ruler, but which Wenti was resolved to recover. As the Hoangho divides this province into two parts, it was extremely difficult for the Wei ruler to defend the portion south of it, and when Wenti sent him his declaration of war, he replied, "Even if your master succeeds in seizing this province I shall know how to retake it as soon as the waters of the Hoangho are frozen." Wenti succeeded in recovering Honan, but after a protracted campaign, during which the Wei troops crossed the river on the ice, his armies were again expelled from it, and the exhausted combatants found themselves at the close of the struggle in almost the same position they had held at the commencement. For a time both rulers devoted their attention to peaceful matters, although Topatao, king of Wei, varied them by a persecution of the Buddhists, and then the latter concentrated all his forces with the view of overwhelming the Song emperor. When success seemed certain, victory was denied him, and the Wei forces suffered severely during their retreat to their own territory. This check to his triumphant career injured his reputation and encouraged his enemies. A short time after this campaign, Topatao was murdered by some discontented officers.
Nor was the Song ruler, Wenti, any more fortunate, as he was murdered by his son. The parricide was killed in turn by a brother who became the Emperor Vouti. This ruler was fond of the chase and a great eater, but, on the whole, he did no harm. The next two emperors were cruel and bloodthirsty princes, and during their reigns the executioner was constantly employed. Two more princes, who were, however, not members of the Song family, but only adopted by the last ruler of that house, occupied the throne, but this weakness and unpopularity--for the Chinese, unlike the people of India, scout the idea of adoption and believe only in the rights of birth--administered the finishing stroke to the Songs, who now give place to the Tsi dynasty, which was founded by a general named Siaotaoching, who took the imperial name of Kaoti. The change did not bring any improvement in the conditions of China, and it was publicly said that the Tsi family had attained its pride of place not by merit, but by force. The Tsi dynasty, after a brief and ignominious career, came to an end in the person of a youthful prince named Hoti. After his deposition, in A.D. 502, his successful enemies ironically sent him in prison a present of gold. He exclaimed, "What need have I of gold after my death? a few glasses of wine would be more valuable." They complied with his wish, and while he was drunk they strangled him with his own silken girdle.
After the Tsi came the Leang dynasty, another of those insignificant and unworthy families which occupy the stage of Chinese history during this long period of disunion. The new Emperor Vouti was soon brought into collision with the state of Wei, which during these years had regained all its power, and had felt strong enough to transfer its capital from the northern city of Pingching to Honan, while the Leang capital remained at Nankin. The progress of this contest was marked by the consistent success of Wei, and the prince of that kingdom seems to have been as superior in the capacity of his generals as in the resources of his state. One incident will be sufficient to show the devotion which he was able to inspire in his officers. During the absence of its governor, Vouti attempted to capture the town of Ginching, and he would certainly have succeeded in his object had not Mongchi, the wife of that officer, anticipating by many centuries the conduct of the Countess of Montfort and of the Countess of Derby, thrown herself into the breach, harangued the small garrison, and inspired it with her own indomitable spirit. Vouti was compelled to make an ignominious retreat from before Ginching, and his troops became so disheartened that they refused to engage the enemy, notwithstanding their taunts and their marching round the imperial camp with the head of a dead person decked out in a widow's cap and singing a doggerel ballad to the effect that none of Vouti's generals was to be feared. In the next campaign Vouti was able to restore his declining fortunes by the timely discovery of a skillful general in the person of Weijoui, who, taking advantage of the division of the Wei army into two parts by a river, gained a decisive victory over each of them in turn. If Vouti had listened to his general's advice, and followed up this success, he might have achieved great and permanent results, but instead he preferred to rest content with his laurels, with the result that the Wei prince recovered his military power and confidence. The natural consequences of this was that the two neighbors once more resorted to a trial of strength, and, notwithstanding the valiant and successful defense of a fortress by another lady named Liuchi, the fortune of war declared in the main for Vouti. This may be considered one of the most remarkable periods for the display of female capacity in China, as the great state of Wei was governed by a queen named Houchi; but the general condition of the country does not support an argument in favor of female government.
The tenure of power by Houchi was summarily cut short by the revolt of the Wei commander-in-chief, Erchu Jong, who got rid of his mistress by tying her up in a sack and throwing her into the Hoangho. He then collected two thousand of her chief advisers in a plain outside the capital, and there ordered his cavalry to cut them down. Erchu Jong then formed an ambitious project for reuniting the empire, proclaiming to his followers his intention in this speech: "Wait a little while, and we shall assemble all the braves from out our western borders. We will then go and bring to reason the six departments of the north, and the following year we will cross the great Kiang, and place in chains Siaoyen, who calls himself emperor." This scheme was nipped in the bud by the assassination of Erchu Jong. Although the death of its great general signified much loss to the Wei state, the Emperor Vouti experienced bitter disappointment and a rude awakening when he attempted to turn the event to his own advantage. His army was defeated in every battle, his authority was reduced to a shadow, and a mutinous officer completed in his palace the overthrow begun by his hereditary enemy. Vouti was now eighty years of age, and ill able to stand so rude a shock. On being deposed he exclaimed: "It was I who raised my family, and it was I who have destroyed it. I have no reason to complain"; and he died a few days later, from, it is said, a pain in his throat which his jailers refused to alleviate with some honey. On the whole, Vouti was a creditable ruler, although the Chinese annalists blame him for his superstition and denounce his partiality for Buddhism.
Vouti's prediction that his family was destroyed proved correct. He was succeeded in turn by three members of his family, but all of these died a violent death. A general named Chinpasien founded a fresh dynasty known as the Chin, but he died before he had enjoyed power many years. At this period also disappeared the Wei state, which was dissolved by the death of Erchu Jong, and now merged itself into that of Chow. The growth of this new power proved very rapid, and speedily extinguished that of the unfortunate Chins. The Chow ruler took the name of Kaotsou Wenti, and ruled over a great portion of China. He changed the name of his dynasty to the Soui, which, although it did not hold possession of the throne for long, vindicated its claim to supremacy by successful wars and admirable public works. This prince showed himself a very capable administrator, and his acts were marked by rare generosity and breadth of view. His son and successor, Yangti, although he reached the throne by the murder of a brother, proved himself an intelligent ruler and a benefactor of his people. He transferred his capital from Nankin to Honan, which he resolved to make the most magnificent city in the world. It is declared that he employed two million men in embellishing it, and that he caused fifty thousand merchants to take up their residence there. But of all his works none will compare with the great system of canals which he constructed, and in connection with which his name will live forever in history. Although he reigned no more than thirteen years, he completed nearly five thousand miles of canals. Some of these, such as the Grand Canal, from the Hoangho to the Yangtsekiang, are splendid specimens of human labor, and could be made as useful today as they were when first constructed. The canal named is forty yards wide and is lined with solid stone. The banks are bordered with elms and willows. These works were constructed by a general corvee or levy en masse, each family being required to provide one able-bodied man, and the whole of the army was also employed on this public undertaking. It is in connection with it that Yangti's name will be preserved, as his wars, especially one with Corea, were not successful, and an ignominious end was put to his existence by a fanatic. His son and successor was also murdered, when the Soui dynasty came to an end, and with it the magnificent and costly palace erected at Loyang, which was denounced as only calculated "to soften the heart of a prince and to foment his cupidity."
There now ensues a break in the long period of disunion which had prevailed in China, and for a time the supreme authority of the emperor recovered the general respect and vigor which by right belonged to it. The deposer of the Souis was Liyuen, who some years before had been given the title of Prince of Tang. In the year A.D. 617 he proclaimed himself emperor under the style of Kaotsou, and he began his reign in an auspicious manner by proclaiming an amnesty and by stating his "desire to found his empire only on justice and humanity." While he devoted his attention to the reorganization of the administration at Singan, which he chose for his capital, his second son, Lichimin, was intrusted with the command of the army in the field, to which was assigned the task of subjecting all the provinces. Lichimin proved himself a great commander, and his success was both rapid and unqualified. He was equally victorious over Chinese rebels and foreign enemies. His energy and skill were not more conspicuous than his courage. At the head of his chosen regiment of cuirassiers, carrying black tiger skins, he was to be found in the front of every battle, and victory was due as often to his personal intrepidity as to his tactical skill. Within a few years the task of Lichimin was brought to a glorious completion, and on his return to Singan he was able to assure his father that the empire was pacified in a sense that had not been true for many centuries. His entry into Singan at the head of his victorious troops reminds the reader of a Roman triumph. Surrounded by his chosen bodyguard, and followed by forty thousand cavalry, Lichimin, wearing a breastplate of gold and accompanied by the most important of his captives, rode through the streets to make public offering of thanks for victory achieved, at the Temple of his ancestors. His success was enhanced by his moderation, for he granted his prisoners their lives, and his reputation was not dimmed by any acts of cruelty or bloodshed.
The magnitude of Lichimin's success and his consequent popularity aroused the envy and hostility of his elder brother, who aspired to the throne. The intrigues against him were so far successful that he fell into disgrace with the emperor, and for a time withdrew from the court. But his brother was not content with anything short of taking his life, and formed a conspiracy with his other brothers and some prominent officials to murder him. The plot was discovered, and recoiled upon its authors, who were promptly arrested and executed. Then Lichimin was formally proclaimed heir to the throne; but the event sinks into comparative insignificance beside the abdication of the throne by Kaotsou in the same year. The real cause of this step was probably not disconnected with the plot against Lichimin, but the official statement was that Kaotsou felt the weight of years, and that he wished to enjoy rest and the absence of responsibility during his last days. Kaotsou must be classed among the capable rulers of China, but his fame has been overshadowed by and merged in the greater splendor of his son. He survived his abdication nine years, dying in A.D. 635 at the age of seventy-one.
On ascending the throne, Lichimin took the name of Taitsong, and he is one of the few Chinese rulers to whom the epithet of Great may be given without fear of its being challenged. The noble task to which he at once set himself was to prove that the Chinese were one people, that the interests of all the provinces, as of all classes of the community, were the same, and that the pressing need of the hour was to revive the spirit of national unity and patriotism. Before he became ruler in his own name he had accomplished something toward this end by the successful campaigns he had conducted to insure the recognition of his father's authority. But Taitsong saw that much more remained to be done, and the best way to do it seemed to him to be the prosecution of what might be called a national war against those enemies beyond the northern frontier, who were always troublesome, and who had occasionally founded governments within the limits of China like the Topa family of Wei. In order to achieve any great or lasting success in this enterprise, Taitsong saw that it was essential that he should possess a large and well-trained standing army, on which he could rely for efficient service beyond the frontier as well as in China itself. Before his time Chinese armies had been little better than a rude militia, and the military knowledge of the officers could only be described as contemptible. The soldiers were, for the most part, peasants, who knew nothing of discipline, and into whose hands weapons were put for the first time on the eve of a war. They were not of a martial temperament, and they went unwillingly to a campaign; and against such active opponents as the Tartars they would only engage when superiority of numbers promised success. They were easily seized with a panic, and the celerity and dash of Chinese troops only became perceptible when their backs were turned to the foe. So evident had these faults become that more than one emperor had endeavored to recruit from among the Tartar tribes, and to oppose the national enemy with troops not less brave or active than themselves. But the employment of mercenaries is always only a half remedy, and not free from the risk of aggravating the evil it is intended to cure. But Taitsong did not attempt any such palliation; he went to the root of the question, and determined to have a trained and efficient army of his own. He raised a standing army of nine hundred thousand men, which he divided into three equal classes of regiments, one containing one thousand two hundred men, another one thousand, and the third eight hundred. The total number of regiments was eight hundred and ninety-five, of which six hundred and thirty-four were recruited for home service and two hundred and sixty-one for foreign. By this plan he obtained the assured services of more than a quarter of a million of trained troops for operations beyond the frontier. Taitsong also improved the weapons and armament of his soldiers. He lengthened the pike and supplied a stronger bow. Many of his troops wore armor; and he relied on the co-operation of his cavalry, a branch of military power which has generally been much neglected in China. He took special pains to train a large body of officers, and he instituted a Tribunal of War, to which the supreme direction of military matters was intrusted. As these measures greatly shocked the civil mandarins, who regarded the emperor's taking part in reviews and the physical exercises of the soldiers as "an impropriety," it will be allowed that Taitsong showed great moral courage and surmounted some peculiar difficulties in carrying out his scheme for forming a regular army. He overcame all obstacles, and gathered under his banner an army formidable by reason of its efficiency and equipment, as well as for its numerical strength.
Having acquired what he deemed the means to settle it, Taitsong resolved to grapple boldly with the ever-recurring danger from the Tartars, Under different names, but ever with the same object, the tribes of the vast region from Corea to Koko Nor had been a trouble to the Chinese agriculturist and government from time immemorial. Their sole ambition and object in life had been to harry the lands of the Chinese, and to bear back to their camps the spoils of cities. The Huns had disappeared, but in their place had sprung up the great power of the Toukinei or Turks, who were probably the ancestors of the Ottomans. With these turbulent neighbors, and with others of different race but of the same disposition on the southern frontier, Taitsong was engaged in a bitter and arduous struggle during the whole of his life; and there can be little or no doubt that he owed his success to the care he bestowed on his army. The Great Wall of Tsin Hwangti had been one barrier in the path of these enemies, but, held by a weak and cowardly garrison, it had proved inadequate for its purpose. Taitsong supplied another and a better defense in a consistent and energetic policy, and in the provision of a formidable and confident army.
The necessity for this military reform was clearly shown by the experience of his first campaign with these implacable enemies, when, in the year of his accession and before his organization had been completed, a horde of these barbarians broke into the empire and carried all before them, almost to the gates of the capital. On this occasion Taitsong resorted to diplomacy and remonstrance. He rode almost unattended to the Tartar camp, and reproached their chiefs with their breach of faith, reminding them that on his sending one of his sisters to be the bride of their chief they had sworn by a solemn oath to keep the peace. He asked: "Are these proceedings worthy, I will not say of princes, but of men possessing the least spark of honor? If they forget the benefits they have received from me, at the least they ought to be mindful of their oaths. I had sworn a peace with them; they are now violating it, and by that they place the justice of the question on my side." The Chinese chroniclers declare that the Tartars were so impressed by Taitsong's majestic air and remonstrances that they agreed to retire, and fresh vows of friendship and peace were sworn over the body of a white horse at a convention concluded on the Pienkiao bridge across the Weichoui River. The only safe deduction from this figurative narrative is that there was a Tartar incursion, and that the Chinese army did not drive back the invaders. Their retreat was probably purchased, but it was the first and last occasion on which Taitsong stooped to such a measure.
The peace of Pienkiao was soon broken. The tribes again drew their forces to a head for the purpose of invading China, but before their plans were complete Taitsong anticipated them by marching into their territory at the head of a large army. Taken by surprise, the Tartars offered but a feeble resistance. Several of their khans surrendered, and at a general assembly Taitsong proclaimed his intention to govern them as Khan of their khans, or by the title of Tien Khan, which means Celestial Ruler. This was the first occasion on which a Chinese ruler formally took over the task of governing the nomad tribes and of treating their chiefs as his lieutenants. Down to the present day the Chinese emperor continues to govern the Mongol and other nomadic tribes under this very title, which the Russians have rendered as Bogdo Khan. The success of this policy was complete, for not only did it give tranquillity to the Chinese borders, but it greatly extended Chinese authority. Kashgaria was then, for the first time, formed into a province under the name of Lonugsi, and Lichitsi, one of the emperor's best generals, was appointed Warden of the Western Marches. Some of the most influential of Taitsong's advisers disapproved of this advanced policy, and attempted to thwart it, but in vain. Carried out with the vigor and consistency of Taitsong there cannot be two opinions about its wisdom and efficacy.
During this reign the relations between China and two of its neighbors, Tibet and Corea, were greatly developed, and the increased intercourse was largely brought about by the instrumentality of war. The first envoys from Tibet, or, as it was then called, Toufan or Toupo, are reported to have reached the Chinese capital in the year 634. At that time the people of Tibet were rude and unlettered, and their chiefs were little better than savages. Buddhism had not taken that firm hold on the popular mind which it at present possesses, and the power of the lamas had not arisen in what is now the most priest-ridden country in the world. A chief, named the Sanpou--which means the brave lord--had, about the time of which we are speaking, made himself supreme throughout the country, and it was said that he had crossed the Himalaya and carried his victorious arms into Central India. Curiosity, or the desire to wed a Chinese princess, and thus to be placed on what may be termed a favored footing, induced the Sanpou to send his embassy to Singan; but although the envoys returned laden with presents, Taitsong declined to trust a princess of his family in a strange country and among an unknown people. The Sanpou chose to interpret this refusal as an insult to his dignity, and he declared war with China. But success did not attend his enterprise, for he was defeated in the only battle of the war, and glad to purchase peace by paying five thousand ounces of gold and acknowledging himself a Chinese vassal. The Sanpou also agreed to accept Chinese education, and as his reward Taitsong gave him one of his daughters as a wife. It is stated that one of his first reforms was to abolish the national practice of painting the face, and he also built a walled city to proclaim his glory as the son-in-law of the Emperor of China. During Taitsong's life there was no further trouble on the side of Tibet.
Taitsong was not so fortunate in his relations with Corea, where a stubborn people and an inaccessible country imposed a bar to his ambition. Attempts had been made at earlier periods to bring Corea under the influence of the Chinese ruler, and to treat it as a tributary state. A certain measure of success had occasionaly attended these attempts, but on the whole Corea had preserved its independence. When Taitsong in the plenitude of his power called upon the King of Corea to pay tribute, and to return to his subordinate position, he received a defiant reply, and the Coreans began to encroach on Sinlo, a small state which threw itself on the protection of China. The name of Corea at this time was Kaoli, and the supreme direction of affairs at this period was held by a noble named Chuen Gaisoowun, who had murdered his own sovereign. Taitsong, irritated by his defiance, sent a large army to the frontier, and when Gaisoowun, alarmed by the storm he had raised, made a humble submission and sent the proper tribute, the emperor gave expression to his displeasure and disapproval of the regicide's acts by rejecting his gifts and announcing his resolve to prosecute the war. It is never prudent to drive an opponent to desperation, and Gaisoowun, who might have been a good neighbor if Taitsong had accepted his offer, proved a bitter and determined antagonist. The first campaign was marked by the expected success of the Chinese army. The Coreans were defeated in several battles, several important towns were captured, but Taitsong had to admit that these successes were purchased at the heavy loss of twenty-five thousand of his best troops. The second campaign resolved itself into the siege and defense of Anshu, an important town near the Yaloo River. Gaisoowun raised an enormous force with the view of effecting its relief, and he attempted to overwhelm the Chinese by superior numbers. But the better discipline and tactics of the Chinese turned the day, and the Corean army was driven in rout from the field. But this signal success did not entail the surrender of Anshu, which was gallantly defended. The scarcity of supplies and the approach of winter compelled the Chinese emperor to raise the siege after he had remained before the place for several months, and it is stated that as the Chinese broke up their camp the commandant appeared on the walls and wished them "a pleasant journey." After this rebuff Taitsong did not renew his attempt to annex Corea, although to the end of his life he refused to hold any relations with Gaisoowun.
During the first portion of his reign Taitsong was greatly helped by the labors of his wife, the Empress Changsun-chi, who was a woman of rare goodness and ability, and set a shining example to the whole of her court. She said many wise things, among which the most quotable was that "the practice of virtue conferred honor upon men, especially on princes, and not the splendor of their appointments." She was a patron of letters, and an Imperial Library and College in the capital owed their origin to her. She was probably the best and most trustworthy adviser the emperor had, and after her death the energy and good fortune of Taitsong seemed to decline. She no doubt contributed to the remarkable treatise on the art of government, called the "Golden Mirror," which bears the name of Taitsong as its author. Taitsong was an ardent admirer of Confucius, whom he exalted to the skies as the great sage of the world, declaring emphatically that "Confucius was for the Chinese what the water is for the fishes." The Chinese annalists tell many stories of Taitsong's personal courage. He was a great hunter, and in the pursuit of big game he necessarily had some narrow escapes, special mention being made of his slaying single-handed a savage boar. Another instance was his struggle with a Tartar attendant who attempted to murder him, and whom he killed in the encounter. He had a still narrower escape at the hands of his eldest son, who formed a plot to assassinate him which very nearly succeeded. The excessive anxiety of Prince Lichingkien to reach the crown cost him the succession, for on the discovery of his plot he was deposed from the position of heir-apparent and disappeared from the scene.
After a reign of twenty-three years, during which he accomplished a great deal more than other rulers had done in twice the time, Taitsong died in A.D. 649, leaving the undisturbed possession of the throne to his son, known as the Emperor Kaotsong. There need be no hesitation in calling Taitsong one of the greatest rulers who ever sat on the Dragon Throne, and his death was received with extraordinary demonstrations of grief by the people he had ruled so well. Several of his generals wished to commit suicide on his bier, the representatives of the tributary nations at his capital cut off their hair or sprinkled his grave with their blood, and throughout the length and breadth of the land there was mourning and lamentation for a prince who had realized the ideal character of a Chinese emperor. Nor does his claim to admiration and respect seem less after the lapse of so many centuries. His figure still stands out boldly as one of the ablest and most humane of all Chinese rulers. He not only reunited China, but he proved that union was for his country the only sure basis of prosperity and power.
Under Kaotsong the power of the Tangs showed for thirty years no diminution, and he triumphed in directions where his father had only pointed the way to victory. He began his reign with a somewhat risky act by marrying one of his father's widows, who then became the Empress Won. She was perhaps the most remarkable woman in the whole range of Chinese history, acquiring such an ascendency over her husband that she practically ruled the state, and retained this power after his death. In order to succeed in so exceptional a task she had to show no excessive delicacy or scrupulousness, and she began by getting rid of the other wives, including the lawful empress of Kaotsong, in a summary fashion. It is stated that she cast them into a vase filled with wine, having previously cut off their hands and feet to prevent their extricating themselves. But on the whole her influence was exerted to promote the great schemes of her husband.
The Tibetan question was revived by the warlike proclivities of the new Sanpou, who, notwithstanding his blood relationship with the Chinese emperor, sought to extend his dominion at his expense toward the north and the east. A desultory war ensued, in which the Chinese got the worst of it, and Kaotsong admitted that Tibet remained "a thorn in his side for years." A satisfactory termination was given to the struggle by the early death of the Sanpou, whose warlike character had been the main cause of the dispute. Strangely enough the arms of Kaotsong were more triumphant in the direction of Corea, where his father had failed. From A.D. 658 to 670 China was engaged in a bitter war on land and sea with the Coreans and their allies, the Japanese, who thus intervened for the first time in the affairs of the continent. Owing to the energy of the Empress Wou victory rested with the Chinese, and the Japanese navy of four hundred junks was completely destroyed. The kingdom of Sinlo was made a Chinese province, and for sixty years the Coreans paid tribute and caused no trouble. In Central Asia also the Chinese power was maintained intact, and the extent of China's authority and reputation may be inferred from the King of Persia begging the emperor's governor in Kashgar to come to his aid against the Arabs, who were then in the act of overrunning Western Asia in the name of the Prophet. Kaotsong could not send aid to such a distance from his borders, but he granted shelter to several Persian princes, and on receiving an embassy from the Arabs, he impressed upon them the wisdom and magnanimity of being lenient to the conquered. Kaotsong died in 683, and the Empress Wou retained power until the year 704, when, at the age of eighty, she was compelled to abdicate. Her independent rule was marked by as much vigor and success as during the life of Kaotsong. She vanquished the Tibetans and a new Tartar race known as the Khitans, who appeared on the northern borders of Shensi. She placed her son in confinement and wore the robes assigned for an emperor. The extent of her power may be inferred from her venturing to shock Chinese sentiment by offering the annual imperial sacrifice to heaven, and by her erecting temples to her ancestors. Yet it was not until she was broken down by age and illness that any of her foes were bold enough to encounter her. She survived her deposition one year, and her banished son Chongtsong was restored to the throne.
Chongtsong did not reign long, being poisoned by his wife, who did not reap the advantage of her crime. Several emperors succeeded without doing anything to attract notice, and then Mingti brought both his own family and the Chinese empire to the verge of ruin. Like other rulers, he began well, quoting the maxims of the "Golden Mirror" and proclaiming Confucius King of Literature. But defeats at the hands of the Khitans and Tibetans imbittered his life and diminished his authority. A soldier of fortune named Ganlochan revolted and met with a rapid and unexpected success owing to "the people being unaccustomed, from the long peace, to the use of arms." He subdued all the northern provinces, established his capital at Loyang, and compelled Mingti to seek safety in Szchuen, when he abdicated in favor of his son. The misfortunes of Mingti, whose most memorable act was the founding of the celebrated Hanlin College and the institution of the "Pekin Gazette," the oldest periodical in the world, both of which exist at the present day, foretold the disruption of the empire at no remote date. His son and successor Soutsong did something to retrieve the fortunes of his family, and he recovered Singan from Ganlochan. The empire was then divided between the two rivals, and war continued unceasingly between them. The successful defense of Taiyuen, where artillery is said to have been used for the first time, A.D. 757, by a lieutenant of the Emperor Soutsong, consolidated his power, which was further increased by the murder of Ganlochan shortly afterward. The struggle continued with varying fortune between the northern and southern powers during the rest of the reign of Soutsong, and also during that of his successor, Taitsong the Second. This ruler showed himself unworthy of his name, abandoning his capital with great pusillanimity when a small Tibetan army advanced upon it. The census returns threw an expressive light on the condition of the empire during this period. Under Mingti the population was given at fifty- two million; in the time of the second Taitsong it had sunk to seventeen million. A great general named Kwo Tsey, who had driven back the Tibetan invaders, enabled Tetsong, the son and successor of Taitsong, to make a good start in the government of his dominion, which was sadly reduced in extent and prosperity. This great statesman induced Tetsong to issue an edict reproving the superstitions of the times, and the prevalent fashion of drawing auguries from dreams and accidents. The edict ran thus: "Peace and the general contentment of the people, the abundance of the harvest, skill and wisdom shown in the administration, these are prognostics which I hear of with pleasure; but 'extraordinary clouds,' 'rare animals,' 'plants before unknown,' 'monsters,' and other astonishing productions of nature, what good can any of these do men as auguries of the future? I forbid such things to be brought to my notice." The early death of Kwo Tsey deprived the youthful ruler of his best adviser and the mainstay of his power. He was a man of magnificent capacity and devotion to duty, and when it was suggested to him that he should not be content with any but the supreme place, he proudly replied that he was "a general of the Tangs." It seems from the inscription on the stone found at Singan that he was a patron of the Nestorian Christians, and his character and career have suggested a comparison with Belisarius.
Tetsong lived twenty-four years after the death of his champion, and these years can only be characterized as unfortunate. The great governors claimed and exacted the privilege that their dignities should be made hereditary, and this surrender of the imperial prerogative entailed the usual deterioration of the central power which preceded a change of dynasty. Unpopularity was incurred by the imposition of taxes on the principal articles of production and consumption, such as tea, and, worst symptom of all, the eunuchs again became supreme in the palace. Although the dynasty survived for another century, it was clear that its knell was sounded before Tetsong died. Under his grandson Hientsong the mischief that had been done became more clearly apparent. Although he enjoyed some military successes, his reign on the whole was unfortunate, and he was poisoned by the chief of the eunuchs. His son and successor, Moutsong, from his indifference may be suspected of having been privy to the occurrence. At any rate, he only enjoyed power for a few years before he was got rid of in the same summary fashion. Several other nonentities came to the throne, until at last one ruler named Wentsong, whose intentions at least were stronger than those of his predecessors, attempted to grapple with the eunuchs and formed a plot for their extermination. His courage failed him and the plot miscarried. The eunuchs exacted a terrible revenge on their opponents, of whom they killed nearly three thousand, and Wentsong passed the last year of his life as a miserable puppet in their hands. He was not allowed even to name his successor. The eunuchs ignored his two sons, and placed his brother Voutsong on the throne.
The evils of the day became specially revealed during the reign of Ytsong, who was scarcely seated on the throne before his troops suffered several defeats at the hands of a rebel prince in Yunnan, who completely wrested that province from the empire. He was as pronounced a patron of Buddhism as some of his predecessors had been oppressors, and he sent, at enormous expense, to India a mission to procure a bone of Buddha's body, and on its arrival he received the relic on bended knees before his whole court. His extravagance of living landed the Chinese government in fresh difficulties, and he brought the exchequer to the verge of bankruptcy. Nor was he a humane ruler. On one occasion he executed twenty doctors because they were unable to cure a favorite daughter of his. His son Hitsong came to the throne when he was a mere boy, and at once experienced the depth of misfortune to which his family had sunk. He was driven out of his capital by a rebel named Hwang Chao, and if he had not found an unexpected ally in the Turk chief Likeyong, there would then have been an end to the Tang dynasty. This chief of the Chato immigrants--a race supposed to be the ancestors of the Mohammedan Tungani of more recent times--at the head of forty thousand men of his own race, who, from the color of their uniform, were named "The Black Crows," marched against Hwang Chao, and signally defeated him. The condition of the country at this time is painted in deplorable colors. The emperor did not possess a palace, and all the great towns of Central China were in ruins. Likeyong took in the situation at a glance, when he said, "The ruin of the Tangs is not far distant." Likeyong, who was created Prince of Tsin, did his best to support the emperor, but his power was inadequate for coping with another general named Chuwen, prince of Leang, in whose hands the emperor became a mere puppet. At the safe moment Chuwen murdered his sovereign, and added to this crime a massacre of all the Tang princes upon whom he could lay his hands. Chao Siuenti, the last of the Tangs, abdicated, and a few months later Chuwen, to make assurance doubly sure, assassinated him. Thus disappeared, after two hundred and eighty-nine years and after giving twenty rulers to the state, the great Tang dynasty which had restored the unity and the fame of China. It forms a separate chapter in the long period of disunion from the fall of the Hans to the rise of the Sungs.
After the Tangs came five ephemeral and insignificant dynasties, with the fate of which we need not long detain the reader. In less than sixty years they all vanished from the page of history. The struggle for power between Chuwen, the founder of the so-called Later Leang dynasty, and Likeyong was successfully continued by the latter's son, Litsunhiu, who proved himself a good soldier. He won a decisive victory at Houlieoupi, and extinguished the Leang dynasty by the capture of its capital and of Chuwen's son, who committed suicide. Litsunhiu ruled for a short time as emperor of the Later Leangs, but he was killed during a mutiny of his turbulent soldiers. This dynasty had a very brief existence; the last ruler of the line, finding the game was up, retired with his family to a tower in his palace, which he set on fire, and perished, with his wives and children, in the flames. Then came the Later Tsins, who only held their authority on the sufferance of the powerful Khitan king, who reigned over Leaoutung and Manchuria. The fourth and fifth of these dynasties, named the Later Hans and Chows, ran their course in less than ten years; and when the last of these petty rulers was deposed by his prime minister a termination was at last reached to the long period of internal division and weakness which prevailed for more than seven hundred and fifty years. The student reaches at this point firmer ground in the history of China as an empire, and his interest in the subject must assume a more definite form on coming to the beginning of that period of united government and settled authority which has been established for nearly one thousand years, during which no more than four separate families have held possession of the throne.