China Chapter IV - The Sungs And The Kins

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Chapter IV - The Sungs And The Kins

One fact will have been noticed during the latter portion of the period that has now closed, and that is the increasing interest and participation in Chinese affairs of the races neighboring to, but still outside, the empire. A large number of the successful generals, and several of the princely families which attained independence, were of Tartar or Turk origin; but the founder of the new dynasty, which restored the unity of the empire, was of pure Chinese race, although a native of the most northern province of the country. Chow Kwang Yu was born in Pechihli, at the small town of Yeoutou, on the site of which now stands the modern capital of Pekin. His family had provided the governor of this place for several generations, and Chow himself had seen a good deal of military service during the wars of the period. He is described as a man of powerful physique and majestic appearance, to whose courage and presence of mind the result of more than one great battle was due, and who had become in consequence the idol of the soldiery. The ingenuity of later historians, rather than the credulity of his contemporaries, may have discovered the signs and portents which indicated that he was the chosen of Heaven; but his army had a simple and convincing method of deciding the destiny of the empire. Like the legionaries of Rome, they exclaimed, "The empire is without a master, and we wish to give it one. Who is more worthy of it than our general?" Thus did Chow Kwang Yu become the Emperor Taitsou and the founder of the Sung dynasty.

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Taitsou began his reign by proclaiming a general amnesty, and he sent the proclamation of his pardon into provinces where he had not a shred of authority. The step was a politic one, for it informed the Chinese people that they again had an emperor. At the same time he ordered that the gates and doors of his palace should always be left open, so that the humblest of his subjects might have access to him at any time. His own words were that "his house should resemble his heart, which was open to all his subjects." He also devoted his attention to the improvement of his army, and particularly to the training of his officers, who were called upon to pass an examination in professional subjects as well as physical exercises. A French writer said, forty years ago, that "The laws of military promotion in the states of Europe are far from being as rational and equitable as those introduced by this Chinese ruler." His solicitude for the welfare of his soldiers was evinced during a campaign when the winter was exceedingly severe. He took off his own fur coat, and sent it to the general in command, with a letter stating that he was sorry that he had not one to send to every soldier in the camp. A soldier himself, he knew how to win a soldier's heart, and the affection and devotion of his army never wavered nor declined. He had many opportunities of testing it. His first war was with the Prince of Han, aided by the King of Leaoutung, whom he speedily vanquished, and whose capacity for aggression was much curtailed by the loss of the frontier fortress of Loochow. His next contest was with an old comrade-in-arms named Li Chougsin, whom he had treated very well, but who was seized with a foolish desire to be greater than his ability or power warranted. The struggle was brief, and Li Chougsin felt he had no alternative save to commit suicide.

The tranquillity gained by these successes enabled Taitsou to institute a great reform in the civil administration of the empire, and one which struck at the root of the evil arising from the excessive power and irresponsibility of the provincial governors. Up to this date the governors had possessed the power of life and death without reference to the capital. It had enabled them to become tyrants, and had simplified their path to complete independence. Taitsou resolved to deprive them of this prerogative and to retain it in his own hands, for, he said, "As life is the dearest thing men...

(The entire section is 7,153 words.)