Leaves from my Chinese Scrapbook/Chapter 1
LEAVES FROM MY CHINESE SCRAPBOOK.
THE FIRST EMPEROR.
An eminent writer of the present century has hazarded the conjecture that in the unwritten history of the globe might be found the names of many great and distinguished men of whom the world knows nothing; that in bygone ages and in distant lands there have been Ciceros and Caesars, Hannibals and Homers,—may we suggest, in all seriousness, Beaconsfields and Bismarcks?—whose fame has never reached the shores of Europe, and whose memories have perished with their lives. Strange to say, we have heard this striking notion characterised as shallow. The criticism seems ungracious: profound it may not be, but there can be no question of its truth, nor of the fact that it is very little realised or thought of. That there are great countries in the world, with long and eventful histories, of which not one man in ten thousand knows the smallest trifle, is a statement which no one acquainted with China will dispute. The educated European is versed only in the ancient and modern history of the continent to which he belongs, and in that of Western Asia. The rise and fall of the Greek and Roman powers; the development of their intellectual life; the varying fortunes of their component states; the prowess of their commanders; the writings of their dramatists and poets, and the speculations of their philosophers: all these are familiar enough, in a general way, to the well-read gentleman of Europe. But does it ever enter his consciousness that Greece may not be the only land which ever produced a Plato or a Sophocles; that other worlds than that he is so well acquainted with may lie beyond the Ural Mountains and the Caucasus, the literatures of which present a treasure-house of instruction and delight, to which he may have access if he will; that Europe has not monopolised the statesmen and the warriors, the poets and reformers, the men of mark and women of command who have hitherto appeared among the nations of the earth; that deeds of heroism and daring, scenes of voluptuousness and revelry, triumphs of intellect and skill, brilliant campaigns and hard-won victories, revolutions, restorations, and reforms—all the phenomena, in a word, of national and social life—have signalised the history of a giant land whose past is shrouded in obscurity, and whose present is substantially ignored? Hardly; or, if such a speculation were to cross his mind, he would dismiss it as treating of persons and events as far removed from his sphere of being as if they belonged to another planet than our own. It is this apathy and this ignorance which future years will, we hope, dispel.
We have decided to take the reign of the great Emperor Chêng as the subject of the present sketch, because it marks, in many ways, a new departure in the national life of China. For at least four hundred years prior to this time the country had been in a condition so unsettled as almost to border upon anarchy. It was split up into independent states continually at war with one another and among themselves. No fewer than nine sovereigns reigned over the territory bounded by the modern Chih-li on the north, and Ssii-ch'uan on the south; of these the most powerful was the King of Ts'in, whose domains comprised a fifth part of the whole of China, and whose subjects amounted to a tenth of the entire population; while the next in power and importance to Ts'in was his overlord, the King of Chou, who represented the dynasty from which this period of Chinese history takes its name. Now, at the time of which we are writing, there had been war between the states of Chao and Ts'in, at the conclusion of which a treaty had been made and hostages exchanged, according to the fashion of the day, as a guarantee of mutual good faith. Into the details of the dispute itself it is unnecessary to enter; the only point we need remark about it being that the end of the struggle left the state of Chao enfeebled, while the state of Ts'in had proportionately gained in strength. The convention concluded between the two was, however, not entirely one-sided; the King of Ts'in entered into recognisances on his part to abstain from further aggressions, and was forced to include, among the hostages offered to the King of Chao, his own grandson I-jên, then a child of very tender age. This lad spent several years in the principality of Chao, and seems to have become a great favourite with all who were brought into contact with him. He grew up a bright, clever, high-spirited youth, with frank and engaging manners, and much semblance, at any rate, of amiability; we hear nothing of any leaning to ambition or intrigue, and probably, had he been left to himself, he might have enjoyed a better if not more brilliant future than was actually in store for him. But, by one of those strange and most unlikely contretemps which so often turn the course of the world's affairs when seemingly most full of promise, he became the tool of an adventurer whose daring was only equalled by the success which crowned his schemes.
The man whose influence affected so remarkably the fortunes of the young Prince, and, through him, of China generally, was a travelling jeweller. How the two strangely assorted companions were first brought together is not very clear; but it appears that the Prince, who was very fond of gems, ornaments, and other articles of vertu, was attracted to the merchant by the tempting quality of his wares. The fact that Lü Pu-wei was a compatriot of his own, too, may have had some influence in cementing the regard felt towards him by the exiled Prince; but, however it may have been, Lü was not the man to lose whatever advantage might be reaped from intimacy with a scion of the royal house. He accordingly attached himself more closely to the person of the Prince, and let no opportunity pass of insinuating himself into his confidence. Unlike most adventurers, however, he did not rise from humble aspirations step by step to more audacious projects. The curious thing about this man was that he conceived, from the very first, the grand design which he afterwards kept steadily in view; a design so impudent, and so apparently impossible of accomplishment, that we can hardly help admiring the coolness and fixity of purpose which eventually carried it through. What this plan was, may be stated in two words. It amounted to no less than the acquisition of the throne of Ts'in for his own son.
The difficulties in the way of this project were even greater than might be at first supposed. The Prince, through whom it was to be brought about, was not only a younger son of the heir-apparent his father, but was the offspring of a concubine. The first step, therefore, was to procure his recognition as the legitimate son and successor of the future King; and to this end was the ingenuity of the merchant now directed. Conversing with the Prince one day on affairs of family and state, he took the opportunity of pointing out to him the unsatisfactory nature of his position. He reminded I-jên that, as simply one of a numerous family of children, his present prospects of ever coming to the throne were absolutely nil. The old King could not live much longer; the heir-apparent, then a man in the prime of life, would immediately succeed him, and his choice of a successor would probably fall on one or other of his elder sons. Now the future Queen herself was childless,—a matter of great grief to both her husband and herself; and as there seemed no chance of her ever becoming a mother, the only thing that she could do would be to adopt one of her husband's children by a concubine. The great point, therefore, urged the merchant, was that the Princess's choice should fall upon I-jên; to further which, he offered to repair to the court of Ts'in with rich presents of jewellery from the Prince himself, and do all he could to interest that lady on his behalf.
The Prince entered warmly into the scheme, and begged the merchant to set off at once. That worthy lost no time in commencing his journey, and soon presented himself at the court of Ts'in, where, as the accredited friend of the absent Prince, he met with a cordial welcome. The old King asked him a thousand questions about his grandson; what sort of a youth he was, how he lived, and what the country itself was like. Nor, as may be supposed, were the Prince and Princess less anxious for information; and so skilfully did the envoy play his cards that he succeeded eventually in securing the adoption of his protégé by the latter with her husband's full consent, and the rank of preceptor to His Highness for himself. So far, therefore, the fortune that had attended his efforts was brilliant in the extreme. He was already the acknowledged guardian of the heir-presumptive; a few more years might see him the confidential adviser of the King. But he aspired to be, not the adviser only, but the father, of a king; and now commenced the most difficult part of his intrigues. The first thing to be done was to secure himself a son; for up till now he seems to have been childless. He accordingly repaired to a professed pander, or dealer in female slaves, and gave him an order for the handsomest and most attractive girl that he could find. She was required, also, to be above the average in mental accomplishments, and no difficulty was to be made about price so long as she came up to all the stipulated requirements. The dealer was not long in producing a suitable person; the bargain was soon struck, and the merchant conveyed his purchase in triumph to his house. As the Prince had insisted upon Lü Pu-wei occupying a palace near his own, in order that their intercourse might be as free and unrestricted as possible, no very considerable time elapsed before his eye fell upon the lovely mistress of his tutor. This girl, instructed by Lü Pu-wei, simulated an excessive coyness, which, added to the many personal graces with which she was endowed, inflamed still more the growing passion of the Prince. The prospect of becoming Queen, and mother of a King, was sufficiently dazzling to one who was even then no more than the property of her employer, and she fell readily into his schemes. At last the fish was hooked; I-jên avowed his passion to his friend, and begged him to let him have the girl. Lü Pu-wei hung back, and affected some resentment. The Prince, however, returned so frequently to the charge, that Lü Pu-wei found no difficulty in pretending to be won over by degrees, and eventually gave his consent. "I give you my most cherished possession," he said, as he yielded to his victim's importunities; "and I only ask that you will see in this act of self-sacrifice a proof of my complete devotion to your person."
It is probable that the merchant so arranged the matter as to make his concubine over to the Prince as soon as ever she declared herself enceinte. Some writers have hesitated to believe that the child she afterwards bore was really the son of Lü Pu-wei, on the ground that she had been already living with the latter for a considerable time, and the child was not born for a full year afterwards. It has been urged, too, that as the name of Chêng is held in execration by the literati of China generally, as the incendiary of books, they have framed this story by way of throwing dishonour on his birth. But it is as difficult to believe that so clever a scamp as Lü Pu-wei would have made so clumsy a blunder in his calculations, as that the future Emperor was born after an abnormal pregnancy of twelve months. The fact appears to be that only eight months elapsed between the surrender of the slave-girl to the Prince, and the birth of the child; and in this case the probabilities are certainly in favour of the popular version of its paternity.
No suspicion, however, seems to have suggested itself to the mind of the confiding Prince. He was so much in love with his new bride, and so delighted with the son she presented to him, that he declared his resolution to raise the former to the rank of legal wife, and the latter to the position of his acknowledged heir. As regards the second part of his intention, there need have been no difficulty; for though married for a considerable time, he had no other children. But his wish to make the mother of the child a Princess was firmly resisted by that lady herself, who, acting under the instructions of her accomplice, declined the proposed honour, on the score of her humble origin. She continued to busy herself with household affairs; she nursed her infant herself, and treated her less fortunate companions in the harem with so much meekness and docility as to disarm all jealousy, and even to win their love. She played a waiting game, and lost nothing by her unaspiring policy.
And now we must glance for a moment at what had been going on in the state of Ts'in. It seems to have been a necessity on the part of the old King, Chao Hsiang Wang, to be perpetually at war with somebody; and having no pretext for attacking the states of Han, Wei, and Chou, he persuaded himself that the treaty he had formerly concluded with the King of Chao was not sufficiently favourable to his own interests to be allowed to stand. He therefore recommenced operations against this state by attempting to gain possession of Yen-yü, a town situated at some distance from Han-tan, the capital of his rival's kingdom. This place, although in an outlying district, was deemed worthy of preservation by the King of Chao, and a general named Chao Chih was forthwith despatched with a large army to its relief. On his arrival, however, at the scene of action, he found that it had already been invested by the enemy; and the invading general, on hearing of his approach, immediately decided to give battle. A short but decisive engagement took place, which, owing to good generalship on the part of the Chao commander, ended in the forces of Ts'in being entirely routed. The siege was raised, and the army of Chao Hsiang Wang ignominiously put to flight. But this defeat, though unexpected, did but little to weaken the growing power of Ts'in; and the King of Wei, who had been subdued but a short time previously, thought it prudent to avail himself of its temporary repulse to form a defensive alliance with the King of Tsi. For this purpose he deputed a man named as his ambassador, accompanied by the philosopher . The envoys received an honourable welcome at the court of Tsi, the King being so struck with the wisdom and prudent conversation of Fan Tsü that he presented him with a quantity of gold on his departure. This so excited the jealousy of Hsü Chia, who had received no such mark of favour, that on his return to the court of Wei he denounced his colleague as a traitor, representing the present he had received in the light of a shameless bribe. The evidence against Fan Tsü appeared so crushing that the Premier, before whom the accusation was made, caused him to be beaten within an inch of his life, and left him lying on the highway for dead. The unlucky philosopher, however, managed to crawl away under cover of the night, and immediately repaired to the Ts'inese Embassy, where he offered his services to the ambassador then residing at the court of the King of Wei. The ambassador took in the situation at a glance, accepted the philosopher's proposals, and accompanied him without loss of time to the court of Chao Hsiang Wang.
The entrance of the philosopher at his first audience seems to have been characterised by extreme rudeness. The old King, on the other hand, no sooner saw that his visitor was clad in a sage's robes than he caused the audience-chamber to be cleared, descended from his throne, and received him on his knees. A dialogue then ensued, in which Fan Tsü rebuked the King for certain disorders in his government, and urged such reforms as he thought necessary. The King took his scolding in good part, and promised that the changes should be made; indeed, such was the effect made upon his mind by the uncompromising counsels of the philosopher that he took him from henceforth into his full confidence, and did nothing without first asking his advice. It is but fair to say, however, that the counsels of Fan Tsü were of a nature in themselves to please the King, as they had for their object the aggrandisement of his territories. "I am the only one in your Majesty's dominions," he said on one occasion, "who fears that your descendants will not remain masters of your present holdings." This remark struck the King with force, and caused him to place himself unreservedly in the hands of his new Minister.
And now, by a singular freak of fortune, who should come to the court of Ts'in, as ambassador from the King of Wei, but the philosopher's old enemy, Hsü Chia. It must have been a disagreeable surprise to him to meet the rival he fancied he had killed, and still more galling to be compelled in a measure to pay his court to him. Nor did Fan Tsü feel disposed to make things easier for him. He received him with a stern and haughty air, bidding him return to his master and say that it was useless for him to talk of peace until he chose to send the head of King of Han. The success which attended these cruel measures served only to make the King of Ts'in more anxious for fresh conquests; and irritated by the recent defeat of his soldiers by the forces of Chao, at the attempted capture of Yen-yü, he decided to march straight upon the capital, where his grandson was still living as a hostage., the Premier who had committed so barbarous an outrage upon his person; threatening that, if this were not soon done, he, Fan Tsü, would lead his armies to the very heart of Wei, and lay the capital in ruins. The required head not being forthcoming, two towns of Wei were taken by the troops of Ts'in; but by way of indemnifying himself for his clemency in not razing the capital itself, he set on foot a bloody campaign against the
On receiving a private communication from his grandfather warning him of the impending danger, I-jên escaped from the court of Chao, and soon arrived at his ancestral state. His wife and child he left in the care of Lü Pu-wei; but no sooner was his flight known than Lü himself became the object of suspicion. His connection with the Prince had been long no secret, and he now found himself for the first time under arrest. The stake for which he had been playing was too high, however, to be relinquished without an effort; and, great as were the difficulties surrounding him, he succeeded in corrupting his guards and making his escape. He soon arrived at the court of Ts'in, bringing with him the Princess—for such she may now be styled—and her son, now a growing lad; where, we need scarcely say, he was enthusiastically received by the King and the heir-apparent, and loaded with gifts and honours.
Then commenced a series of triumphs on the part of the King of Ts'in, followed in each case by massacres of the most wholesale and horrible description. Forty thousand prisoners of war were beheaded in Han and ninety thousand in Chao. Like a swarm of hungry locusts, the troops of Ts'in found lands as the garden of Eden before them which they left a desolate wilderness; nothing escaped their devastations, and the terror of them spread over the whole country. In despair, the King, or Emperor as he has been called, of Chou, ordered a blind attack to be made upon the advancing army by the other princes in a body, but it was too late; and, convinced of the infatuation of his design, he went of his own accord and tendered his submission to his conquering vassal. That monarch received his suzerain with condescension, accepted his humble apologies for the past, and took possession of thirty-six of his towns and thirty thousand soldiers. From this moment the dynasty of Chou may be said to have become extinct. Although the empire was not actually brought under the sway of a single sceptre, the power of the state of Ts'in was growing so rapidly that it was clear the old order of things was irrevocably doomed; reverses were yet in store for the conquerors, but the day was fast approaching when the great object they had held in view should be once and for all attained.
During this campaign against the states of Han and Chao the King of Ts'in died. But, as if the fates had ordained that nothing should intervene to delay the consummation of his hopes, or retard the accession of the Coming Man, who was to complete the work he had left unfinished, his two successors were speedily cut off. The heir-apparent died a few days after the decease of his father, and I-jên took possession of the throne. He continued the wars which his grandfather had bequeathed to him, and gained great victories over the states of Chao, Han, and Chou; but, in an evil moment, he allowed his energies to be diverted to the state of Wei, and here he received a check. Five princes joined together to resist the rapacious invader, and a bloody engagement took place, in which the ever-victorious army was routed and put to flight. But this disaster was the almost immediate cause of the final triumph of Ts'in. The King took it so much to heart that he sickened and soon died, after a turbulent reign of only five years, thus making way for the son of the adventurer and the courtesan, who was then just thirteen years of age.
To write a sketch, however slight, of the reign of Shih Huang Ti, or the "First Emperor," without giving a detailed account of the steps by which he succeeded in bringing the empire under a single sway, will probably seem to most readers as absurd and vain a task as to write a history of Queen Anne without dwelling upon the great military achievements of the Duke of Marlborough and Prince Eugene. We have elected, nevertheless, to pursue this course in a certain measure. To our mind, there is nothing drearier or more sickening than the minute chronicles of petty wars; wars involving no great principle, directed to no righteous end, but simply undertaken to glut the greed of the aggressor or satisfy his taste for blood; wars prompted by the meanest and most unworthy motives, and aided by the foulest perjury and intrigue. That the unification of the empire was an eventual benefit to China we do not dispute; that it called into play the powers of an almost master mind, whose boldness and originality, courage and perseverance, are more or less entitled to our admiration, will be as readily acknowledged. "What must be done," asked the King of Liang in conversation with Mencius two hundred years before, "for the empire to be tranquillised?" "It must be united under one sway," replied the philosopher. So far Shih Huang Ti seems to have been at one with Mencius. But the means he took to accomplish this great end would have been utterly condemned by that high authority. "Who can so unite it?" pursued the King. "One," replied his interlocutor, "who has no pleasure in killing men." It was by a liberal, just, and unselfish policy towards the people that the empire should have been consolidated; a wise, firm, but merciful system of government, which, as Confucius said, would have imparted joy to contiguous states and attracted distant ones. But the times of which we are writing were not calculated to produce the beneficent and prudent ruler here described; and it is no more than justice to Shih Huang Ti to say that he was the natural offspring of the period in which he lived. We shall therefore hurry over the unpleasing details of his wars and devastations, believing that the laconic style of the Spring and Autumn Classic is the one most suitable for imitation in dealing with a subject so distasteful.
Aided by Lü Pu-wei, who now found himself a Prince of the Realm and confidential adviser to his own son, and the eminent statesman Li Ssŭ, of whom more anon, the new King commenced his operations by sowing dissensions between the states of Chao and Yen. When their mutual animosity had culminated in the outbreak of hostilities, the King of Ts'in affected to espouse the cause of the latter state on the ground of its having come off second best; and, under pretext of rendering assistance to Yen, captured nine cities from Chao, which he added to his own possessions. He then availed himself of a struggle that was going on between Chou and Wei to play a precisely similar game; and, making common cause with the former state, succeeded in reducing the latter to submission. This accomplished, he turned his arms once more against the state of Chao; but on this occasion he suffered a reverse, owing to the bravery and good generalship of Li Mu, the leader of his adversary's forces. Smarting under this check, the baffled conqueror had resort to artifice. By dint of bribes and promises he succeeded in suborning a certain minion of the King of Chao named Ku Kai; and this degraded being, who belonged to a class unhappily never rare at Chinese courts, undertook to ruin the General Li Mu by representing him as a traitor to his master. This infamous design was facilitated by the loss of three most important fastnesses belonging to the state of Chao, which fell into the hands of the enemy, and the unhappy general was forthwith put to death. The state of Chao being thus enfeebled and disorganised, the next victim was the King of Han. This unfortunate Prince, foreseeing the inevitable calamities in store for him, tendered his submission of his own accord; but the ruthless conqueror, not content with what his neighbour voluntarily relinquished to him, marched upon the capital, made prisoners of the King, his family, and his nobles, and butchered them to a man.
And now occurred an event which shows how utterly heartless and devoid of all human feelings the King of Ts'in had become. It appears that while he and his father, then Prince I-jên, were living as hostages at the court of Chao, he had formed a close friendship with Prince Tan of Yen, a child of his own age or thereabouts, who was stationed there in the same capacity as himself. This Prince, weary of the listless life he was leading in his father's palace, came to the court of Ts'in, never doubting that he would meet with an affectionate welcome at the hands of his former friend; but he little knew how different a person was the conquering King of Ts'in from the playmate of his childhood, and so insultingly cold was the reception he met with, and so mortifying the treatment he continued to receive, that he returned to his father's in disgust. There the affair might have ended; a short time afterwards, however, before his rage had had time to cool, his protection was demanded by a general of Chêng's army, who had somehow incurred the displeasure of his sovereign. Prince Tan received him warmly; but so deep was his resentment towards the King of Ts'in that he thought more of vengeance than of hospitality towards the refugee. His object now was the assassination of Chêng, and he found a ready instrument for his purpose in a certain man named Ching K'o, a native of Wei, who had private reasons for hating the powerful despot. The great difficulty was to obtain an audience of the King; and Ching K'o suggested that the best means would be to take him, as a present, the head of the offending general. The King of Yen, however, peremptorily forbade so gross a breach of hospitality as the murder of his guest; and the plan would in all probability have fallen through had it not been that a strange but most original idea suggested itself to the intending assassin. He appealed to the general himself, representing that the injuries he had suffered at the hands of the King of Ts'in could only be mortally avenged through the sacrifice of his own life. "By giving me your head," urged Ching K'o, "you place it in my power to kill your own enemy, and to rid the world of its common oppressor; the whole empire will thus owe its enfranchisement to you." "I have but one desire left," replied the general, "and that is, revenge;" with which word he cut his throat, and fell dead upon the spot. Ching K'o then took off the head and repaired with it to the court of Ts'in, obtained an audience of the King, and presented him with his horrible offering. While Chêng was bending forward to examine it, the assassin struck at him with a dagger; but, owing to a quick motion of the King's body, he missed his aim. Recovering himself, he threw the dagger at the King; but it only grazed his robes, and the wretched man was overpowered after a brief struggle, in which he lost a leg. He then made a full confession of the whole conspiracy, and was accordingly put to death.
No better pretext than this could have been forthcoming for Chêng to turn his arms against the state of Yen. Here he was again victorious, though in consideration of the fact that the King of that state repudiated all knowledge of the plot, and decapitated his son, the Prince of Tan, for being its prime instigator, he left him in temporary possession of his throne. He then, after a brief campaign, succeeded in annihilating the state of Wei; and flushed by his continued triumphs, set on foot a final attack upon the state of Chou. He first despatched an army of two hundred thousand men, under the leadership of Li Hsin; but this force proving terribly insufficient, he entrusted the famous general Wang Ts'ien with another army three times as numerous, and sent him to the relief of his vanquished colleague. In less than a year the entire principality was subdued, and, owing to the moderation of Wang Ts'ien, with comparatively little carnage. This achieved, the King of Ts'in gave the coup-de-grâce to the King of Yen, and assumed possession of his state. Seeing the desperate condition of affairs, the King of Tsi came with all his family, in very humble guise, and offered his submission too; upon which the King of Ts'in, now master of the whole of China, allowed him, with unusual clemency, to escape into a barren wilderness, where he died of hunger and destitution. The conqueror then assumed the title of Shih Huang Ti, or the First Emperor, and ordained that all his successors should call themselves Second Emperor, Third Emperor, and so on, from that time forward and for ever.
The events above recapitulated have brought us to the year 221 B.C., being the twenty-sixth year of his reign and the thirty-ninth of his age. We are now at liberty to return to the time of his accession, and trace the course of the more interesting events which marked his domestic history. During the first decade of his reign, affairs of state were placed under the direction of the Emperor's guardian, Lü Pu-wei, whom he created Marquis of Wên Hsin. Now, it will be remembered that the Queen Dowager, widow of the Prince I-jên, had begun her career as the concubine of this man, then a travelling vendor of curiosities; and no sooner was the Prince her husband dead than the relations formerly existing between the two became renewed. For some time the secret of their intercourse seems to have been pretty successfully preserved; but it could not remain so always, and the other Ministers of State began to suspect some scandal. The new Marquis then hit upon a very strange and crooked expedient for averting the danger that might come upon himself. Among his retainers there was a young and very handsome lad named Lao Ai, who, from his soft and beardless face, might very well pass for a eunuch. He suggested, then, to the Queen Dowager that Lao Ai should be admitted into the number of her attendants, in order that, should any further scandal arise about his own familiarities with Her Majesty, suspicion might be diverted towards this boy. The one-sidedness of this scheme seems curious enough, and we are at first disposed to wonder that the selfishness of her paramour did not turn the Queen's affection into disgust. But this insatiable woman, who was but thirty years of age, no sooner saw the beautiful page provided for her than she consented at once to the arrangement, and forthwith abandoned herself to the unrestrained indulgence of her new passion. This intrigue resulted in the birth of two sons, the influence of the soi'disant eunuch growing rapidly greater as the months went by. Soon he was created a Marquis, with the title of Chang Hsin; the territory of T'ai-yuen in the modern province of Shansi was conferred upon him as his fief; the government of the country passed almost entirely into his hands, and strangers from distant parts came and sought employment in his service.
Among the courtiers of the King, however, were certain persons who had on several occasions come into collision with the Queen's paramour, and who consequently bore a hearty grudge against him. Nothing was easier than to effect his ruin, both on account of his gross violation of power, and also on that of his criminal intimacy with the Queen Dowager. These nobles accordingly discovered the state of affairs to the young King, and denounced Lao Ai as an impostor of the worst description. The King immediately despatched some high officials to investigate the affair; whereupon Lao Ai, taking the alarm, stole the royal seal, put himself at the head of an army, and attacked the palace as an avowed rebel. Two eminent commanders, named Chang P'ing and Chang Wen respectively, who held the rank of Princes of the State, then marched against him, and a battle took place at Hsien Yang, in which, says the historian, many hundred heads were struck off. The insurgents were routed, and their leader put to flight; but he was soon captured, and then the true horrors of the whole affair began. The carnage and the cruelty were awful. Every member of the families of his father, his mother, and his wife was put to death. Lao Ai and all his creatures were then tied severally to carts by their four limbs, and torn to pieces; even the relations of those in his employ were ruthlessly butchered. Those who had but little to do with his crimes were banished to the modern province of Ssŭ-chuan, to the number of four thousand families; the Dowager was exiled to a place called Yung in Shansi; and her two innocent children were barbarously dashed to pieces in sacks. The King then issued a decree warning all against daring to expostulate with him respecting his treatment of the Queen Mother, threatening that all who did so should be put to death, their limbs cut off, and heaped together in front of the palace gate.
This brutal threat, however, was powerless to restrain the righteous indignation of the people. No fewer than twenty-seven noble-minded men braved the royal monster, and a hideous stack of bloody arms and legs was soon to be seen in the courtyard of the palace. But soon after, a certain man named till the present time, only twenty-seven persons have been killed; I come, because I wish to complete the number. I have no fear of death.", a native of the state of Tsi, undauntedly demanded audience; avowing in the most intrepid manner that his object was the same as that for which his twenty-seven predecessors had been so barbarously murdered. When the King heard of the application, he was lost in astonishment and rage; but being almost incredulous that any one should be so infatuated, and, possibly, satiated for the moment with his recent slaughters, he despatched an attendant to investigate the matter more closely. "One would think you had never seen the heap of arms and legs in front of the palace gate," was the grim remark of His Majesty, delivered by the messenger to Mao Chiao. "I have heard," returned Mao Chiao coolly, "that, in the sky, there are just twenty-eight constellations. Up
So the messenger returned and reported Mao Chiao's answer to the King. In the meantime all the members of Mao Chiao's family, who lived in the same neighbourhood as he, got wind of the affair, and made off with all speed, carrying their clothes and provisions with them on their backs. The King flew into a terrible rage when he heard what Mao Chiao had said. "This man has come with the deliberate intention of insulting me," he exclaimed. "Let a cauldron be immediately prepared, that he may be boiled to death; the punishment inflicted on the others would be far too merciful for him." Then, grasping a two-edged sword, the ogre seated himself, his mouth in a froth with fury, and ordered the attendants to bring in the delinquent. Mao Chiao advanced quietly to the foot of the throne, prostrated himself twice, then rising, said:—
"There are those living who do not fear death; there are states which do not dread being overthrown. Those who fear death lose their lives; those who dread the overthrow of their states are unable to preserve them. Now wise monarchs are all most eager to hear about life and death, extinction and preservation; does your Majesty desire to do so?"
"What do you mean?" inquired the King.
"Your Majesty's conduct is cruel and outrageous," was the undaunted rejoinder; "don't you know it yourself? You have torn your sham-father to pieces with carts; you tied your two brothers up in sacks and then dashed them to death; you have sent your mother into exile, and barbarously slaughtered all the worthy men who expostulated with you. The vilest tyrants never went to such lengths as this. When the world hears of it, all hearts will be estranged from you, and not a man will come near the state of Ts'in. Your servant presumes to tremble for your Majesty. This is all I have to say."
So saying he stripped off his clothes, and placed himself in readiness to be taken up with the pincers and put into the cauldron to be boiled. But the King, descending from his dais, stretched forth his hand and stopped him. "Rise, Master," said he, "and put on your robes again. I am willing to receive instruction at your hands." Then he raised him to an honourable place among his counsellors, and set off himself in his royal chariot to fetch the Dowager from her place of banishment, leaving the seat on his left vacant, in order that she might occupy it on the return journey. The lion's mouth was stopped for that time, and the King, rendered uneasy, probably, by the warnings of Mao Chiao, promised that he would not be more truculent than he could help in future.
This incident occurred in the ninth year of his reign, and seventeen years before his assumption of the Imperial title. The year afterwards Lü Pu-wei was banished to the state of Chao, where he led a miserable and discontented life, eventually putting an end to his own existence by poison just twelve years after the accession of his son to the throne. His fate, compared with that of the other actors in the tragedy, was merciful in the extreme.
Ten years after this the Queen Dowager also died. She appears from all accounts to have been a commonplace character, who would have been harmless enough had she not been made the tool of an audacious and unscrupulous adventurer. Her ruling passion seems to have been sensuality; in other respects she was simply an ignorant woman, characterised by the vulgar ambition to shine so often found among her class. Her part in the events we have detailed was a passive rather than an active one.
In the twenty-eighth year of his reign the Emperor made a grand progress through his dominions. He visited all the famous mountains and rivers in the kingdom, arriving at length on the shore of the Eastern Sea. There, with great pomp and ceremony, he offered solemn sacrifices to the Lords of Heaven and Earth, the canonised spirit of Ch'ih Yu, the Lords of the Yin and Yang, the Sun, the Moon, and the Four Seasons. After these religious exercises he turned south and ascended the mountain of Lan Ya, the prospect from the summit of which so delighted him that he stayed there three months, and built a terrace, on which he erected a monolith in commemoration of his visit. On this he inscribed a lengthy catalogue of his virtues and achievements, for doing which he incurred a severe remonstrance at the hands of the local worthies; but the Emperor, to his credit be it spoken, instead of boiling them alive for their impertinence, contented himself with recommending his disinterested advisers to confine themselves in future to their own concerns.
The event we are now about to relate is so mixed up with legend, and so differently described by different authors, that it is by no means easy to arrive at the actual truth. According to Ssŭ-ma Kuang, there was, at this time, a certain mystic in the state of Yen, who had acquired considerable fame by his ability to go through all the Taoist pranks and capers which conduce to the exorcism of demons and the sublimation of the body. Numbers of people in both Yen and Tsi, who had a taste for the marvellous, were in the habit of resorting to him for instruction; while three Princes had, successively, given in their full adherence to his pretensions, and, in deference to his assurances, sent expeditions across the ocean in search of the Three Isles of Fairyland—P'êng Lai, Pang Chang, and Ying Chou. These islands were said to be situated in the "North Sea," as it was then called, and were, of course, no other than Japan. It was currently believed that those who had made the voyage had actually arrived, had seen the Immortals who inhabited the mystic realm, and had drunk of the Elixir of Immortality. When, therefore, the Emperor arrived in the state of Yen, all the old mystics of the place, among whom was a man named Hsü Fu, overwhelmed him with memorials upon the subject, representing the islands as easy of access, and the acquisition of the wonderful elixir as a certainty. The Emperor, who was neither more nor less superstitious than his contemporaries, turned a ready ear to the story, and forthwith commissioned Hsü Fu to make a new attempt. A ship was then fitted out, and Hsü Fu, accompanied by a thousand virgin boys and girls, set sail for the fair realm. Just as they got within sight of the islands, however, a contrary wind arose and they were driven back to China; nor did they, as far as we are informed, attempt another voyage, it being a condition that, if they were destined to arrive, the wind would certainly be in their favour,—so that it was useless to try and counteract the atmospheric influences by skilful navigation.
So far the Chinese historian. We know for a fact, however, through Japanese histories, that Hsü Fu actually did arrive; indeed, his tomb is still shown to travellers. "In the seventy-second year of Koré Tenno," says the Kok Shi Riak, "a man named Hsü Fu arrived in Japan from the state of Ts'in, accompanied by a thousand persons, consisting of men, women, and children. He also brought with him a certain book, and the object of his visit was to find the Elixir of Immortality. In this he was unsuccessful, and he therefore never went back. He took up his abode at Fusiyama, and his memorial temple is still to be seen at Kumano-san." It would appear from this, then, that a second expedition was fitted out and despatched at a later period; unless we are to conclude that the version given by Ssŭ-ma Kuang is altogether erroneous. The Chinese themselves say that Hsü Fu was the first mortal who ever set foot in Japan, and that it is from him that the entire nation of the Japanese are descended. This theory is to be traced, we believe, to Ou-yang Hsiu, the well-known historian and statesman of the Sung dynasty. The story of his voyage to Japan forms the basis of a curious legend which, though largely mixed with fable, is worth repeating here. "In the reign of Ts'in Shih Huang Ti," we read, "a number of murders were committed in Khokand, and the roads were strewn with corpses. But birds came, holding a certain sort of grass in their beaks which they spread over the faces of the dead men, whereupon the corpses immediately revived. The local authorities having reported the circumstance to the Emperor, he despatched messengers in search of this wonderful grass, commanding them to make inquiries upon the subject of Wang Hsü, the recluse of the Demon Valley, who told them that in the Eastern Sea there was an island called Tsû Chou, where the Herb of Immortality was to be found. 'It grows,' he said, 'in the Coral Fields, and is known as the plant which nourishes the spirit. Its leaves resemble the water-grass called kû; it grows separately, and a single blade of it is sufficient to revive a thousand corpses.' Then the Emperor ordered an expedition to go and procure some of it, and sent Hsü Fu with three thousand boys and the same number of girls over the sea in search of the island Tsû Chou. They did not return, and nobody knew what became of them. But some time afterwards, a man named Shên Hsi having attained to immortality, the Yellow Emperor and Lao-tzŭ sent Hsü Fu in a chariot drawn by white tigers, Tu-shih Chün in a chariot drawn by dragons, and Po-yen Chih in a chariot drawn by white stags, to receive Shên Hsi; after doing which they all returned together. Therefore it became known that Hsü Fu had attained to immortality. Later, in the reign of Hsüan Tsung, of the T'ang dynasty, there was a scholar who was afflicted with a very strange disease, half of his body being dried up and black. As the imperial physicians could make nothing of the case, the patient called his friends together and said, 'My body being in this condition, how can I live any longer? Now I hear that in the Eastern Sea there is an abode of Immortals, and it seems to me that I might go and beg them for a prescription to cure me.' His family were one and all against the project; he insisted, however, and, taking a servant and a supply of provisions with him, he soon arrived at Têng-chou [near Chefoo] on the sea-coast. There he found an empty boat in which he put all the things he had brought with him, hoisted sail, and went whither the wind carried him. In ten days' time he came in sight of a solitary island, on which there were several hundreds of people, all engaged apparently in some act of worship. On the beach there was a woman washing herbs, of whom he inquired what they were all about. 'The personage in the middle, with white hair and beard,' replied the woman, pointing, 'is the Prince Hsü.' 'And who is the Prince Hsü? ' inquired the stranger. 'Don't you know about Hsü Fu, who lived in the reign of Ts'in Shih Huang Ti?' asked the woman. 'Certainly I do,' he answered. 'Well, that is he,' said the woman. Then the assembly dispersed, and the traveller disembarked and went to pay his respects to Hsü Fu, telling him the object of his visit and begging for relief.' Your malady will be cured now that you have seen me,' replied Hsü Fu. Then he set some fine rice before him, inviting him to eat; but in such tiny bowls that the stranger was rather offended, and complained of the niggardliness of his entertainment. 'As soon as you have eaten what I have set before you,' said the Immortal, 'I will give you more; but I fear you will be unable to finish what you already have.' Then the guest began to eat, and found that one of these little basins contained more than a great many large ones, so that he was more than satisfied. So with the wine; for though it was all in a little cup not bigger than a thimble, there proved to be so much of it that he made himself quite drunk. Next day, the Immortal gave him some black pills; and when he had taken them he evacuated several pints of black fluid, and found that his malady had disappeared. Then the patient besought Hsü Fu to permit him to remain in the capacity of his attendant; but the Immortal would not hear of it. 'You have still duties to perform and a position to keep up in the world,' he replied; 'you may stay no longer here. But do not fear the length of the journey; I will cause an east wind to blow which will escort you safely home.' Then he gave him a bag of yellow drugs, saying, 'This medicine is a universal panacea. When, on your arrival in China, you meet any sick person, dilute a little with water and give it him to drink.' Then the traveller set sail, and on his arrival showed the elixir to Hsüan Tsung, telling him the story of his adventures; and many were the afflicted persons whom His Majesty caused to be healed by its use."
To return, however, from fable to history. "While occupied with his travels through the empire, the Emperor incurred a very narrow risk of assassination. It appears that in the state of Han there was a family named Chang, of high respectability and worth, five generations of whom had served successive kings in the capacity of ministers. At the time of the conquest of Han by the King of Ts'in, this family seems to have been represented by a youth named Liang, who, indignant at the misfortunes of his country, made a secret vow to be revenged upon the usurper. He therefore bided his time, sacrificing lands, time, and all the money he possessed, to the one great object of his life. Eventually, he was in a position to offer a large reward to any man who would undertake to rid the world of such a monster as the King of Ts'in, and ere long a certain bold adventurer presented himself as a candidate for the prize. Chang Liang soon came to terms with him, and the assassin, armed with an enormous hatchet, a hundred and twenty pounds in weight, concealed himself by the side of the road along which the Emperor was expected to pass. The royal cortège at length came in sight, headed by the chariot of the sovereign; and the assassin, rushing out of his ambush, dealt a blow at it which, had His Majesty been inside, would most effectually have quieted him for ever. It is conjectured that the Emperor had got wind of the conspiracy, and consequently rode in the second chariot instead of in the first; but, however this may be, the fact remains that the vehicle attacked was empty, the intended victim being in another part of the procession. Suspicion seems to have been immediately directed towards Chang Liang, and search was made for him far and near; but he evaded all pursuit, and lived to see the complete overthrow of the usurper's dynasty. His name has since been handed down to posterity as the reputed author of the celebrated Su Shu, and the man who contributed most to founding and consolidating the glorious dynasty of Han.
The lamentable poverty of all the native histories we have consulted precludes us from giving a proper account of the next great occurrence in the reign of Shih Huang Ti. We refer to the building of the Great Wall; an undertaking which is dismissed, with a bare mention of the fact, in about a couple of lines of large type. "In the thirty-second year of his reign"—B.C. 215—"the general Mêng T'ien drove out the invading Huns at the head of 300,000 soldiers, and took possession of the modern province of Honan, dividing it into forty-four departments. He then built the Great Wall, extending it over hill and dale, from the western extremity of Shan-si as far as Kuan-tung in Manchuria; thus covering a stretch of country ten thousand li in length." The event is not considered of sufficient importance to be more particularly described; the genius of the Chinese people, probably, not being such as to render them curious respecting the number of men employed, the cost of the materials and labour, the time occupied in the work, and such like trivial details. The bare fact is all we have: that, in the thirty-third year of Chêng's reign, Meng T'ien built the Wall. And if this is sufficient for the Chinese, it does not behove a European to be hypercritical.
Nor are we much better off when we approach the great achievement, par excellence, of this extraordinary person. That a man of letters should deem a vulgar piece of bricklaying beneath the dignity of his pen, we can well conceive; but that he should pass over the Burning of the Books with almost equal laconism is wonderful indeed. All we are told is, that, in the thirty-fourth year of his reign, the Minister Li Ssŭ presented the following memorial to the Emperor. "In former times," he wrote, "when the empire was divided, and all the feudal princes were fighting among themselves, the peripatetic Sages were in great request. But now that the empire is settled and brought under a single sway, the services of these men are no longer required. The energies of the people should be directed simply to tilling the ground for their livelihood; the educated classes should devote themselves to studying law and the decrees of Government. But instead of this, they guide themselves, not by the present, but by the past, condemning the present order of things as wrong; they put erroneous notions into the heads of the common people, and thereby promote much disorder. If they hear of any decree having been promulgated by your Majesty, each man takes upon himself to discuss its merits and criticise it by the standard of his own erudition; in private, their hearts are disloyal, while in public they make the laws of the realm the subject of their talk in all the streets of the city. They acquire reputation by ostentatiously extolling your Majesty, and render themselves conspicuous by an affectation of eccentricity, misleading the people by all sorts of unfounded statements. If this is not put a stop to your Majesty's power will be imperilled, and sedition will become rife; while if measures are taken in time, it will be for the good of the empire. I therefore beg that your Majesty will cause all books to be burnt, excepting those on medicine, divination, agriculture, and astronomy, and such as have been written during the present reign; but let all others, particularly poems, histories, and philosophical works, that may be privately possessed, be burnt in a heap at the city gates. If any man dare so much as to mention the two words poetry and history, let him be immolated in the market-place. If any still dare to regard ancient times as preferable to the present, let them and all their families be destroyed. If any officers hear of such offences being committed and fail to report them, let them be regarded as guilty of the same crime themselves. And let all those who have not burnt their books within thirty days after the promulgation of the Decree, be sent into penal servitude. If any persons are desirous of studying law and the Imperial decrees, let them take officers of state for their preceptors."
What a situation have we here for the historian! In what vivid colours might he not depict the consternation and alarm which such a project must have caused throughout the empire, the consultations which no doubt took place among the literati, the means devised for evading the cruel decree, and, above all, the scenes which ensued when volume upon volume of precious lore was flung into the bonfire before the very eyes of the indignant owners! Or, looked at from the more dispassionate standpoint of statesmanship, what an opportunity for weighing the immediate and subsequent results of the decree, for pointing the moral deducible from the eventual failure of the object held in view, and gauging in some measure the real motives which influenced the memorialist in recommending so barbarous and futile a policy to the tyrant! But all this is far beneath the dignity of Chinese history, the highest ideal of which appears to consist in as close an approximation as possible to an almanac. Three words, and three words only, follow the text of the memorial as given by Ssŭ-ma Tsien: "The Emperor agreed." The subject is then dismissed, and another event portrayed in as brief and laconic a style as the preceding. Ssŭ-ma Kuang, however, does add a little incident, for which it behoves us to be duly grateful. It appears that at this time there was a certain descendant of Confucius, named , who stood foremost among the literary men of the day. To him remarked Ch'en-yu, a native of the state of Wei, "His Majesty intends to destroy all the books of the former kings. Now you, Sir, as the descendant of the Holy Man, may be considered the representative and chief of the literary world; so you are in great danger." "The knowledge I possess," replied K'ung Fu, "is of no use in the present state of affairs; it is only my friends, such as you, who know me. Now the Emperor, not being my friend, knows nothing of me; in what danger, then, do I stand? I shall just retire into concealment, and wait until he sends after me; and when he does that, there will be no more to fear." One would think that the historian might have deemed it worth while, by the addition of four or even three more characters, to have chronicled the fact that many books were preserved through the instrumentality of this prudent man; but the narrative finishes abruptly, as above, and we are left utterly in the dark as to whether the misguided monarch ever recovered his senses sufficiently to "send after" K'ung Fu or not. The truth is, we believe, that the descendant of Confucius never had any opportunity of admonishing the Emperor, but continued in retirement for the remainder of his life.
From other sources, however, we may obtain an insight into the circumstances under which the Decree was proposed and carried out. Like Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, the vain-glorious Emperor of China made a great feast, or fête champêtre, to which he invited all the princes, nobles, and officers who called him lord. The great plain where this monster entertainment took place was covered with splendid tents, in the midst of which rose the imperial pavilion; tables were set, spread with the richest viands and the most sparkling wines; a thousand flags floated lazily in the breeze, and strains of ceremonial music added due solemnity to the occasion. Instead, however, of erecting an image of gold, like the Western sovereign, to which it was incumbent upon all to offer homage, the Emperor of China was content with a more economical and satisfactory arrangement, by virtue of which he was himself the object of his people's worship. At the conclusion of the grand banquet, the Emperor ascended his throne, and, in the hearing of the assembled thousands, invited any who might wish to do so, to offer their opinion upon the general policy of his government; declaring, in the frankest way, that he should be happy to receive any criticisms or suggestions which might be offered for his consideration.
The first speaker, of course, led off in a laudatory strain. He was a person named Chou Tsing-chên, who held some office under government at Pu-yeh; and who doubtless owed his rise in life to the successful policy of his master. "If," said this man, "the whole country is now placed under a single sway, accorded the blessings of internal peace, and defended from the incursions of the Tartars, it is simply the result of your Majesty's bravery, foresight, wisdom, and good government. What more do we want, or what more can any one give us? All the virtues and achievements of all the ancient kings together do not reach the sum of those of your Majesty; for you surpass every monarch who ever went before you, from the most ancient down to the present times."
This speech was greeted with immense applause, and the Emperor sat brimming over with self-complacency and delight. But his transports were soon moderated. A certain scholar of rank, named Shun Yu-yueh, indignant at this adulation of one whom he looked upon as a barbarous and uncultured tyrant, and exasperated at the reflection cast upon his beloved antiquity, rose from his seat and denounced the speaker as a sycophant and a flatterer. "The person who has just had the impudence to praise your Majesty in such terms," he said, "does not deserve the title of a Grandee of the Empire, with which he is honoured. He is nothing but a base courtier, a vile flatterer, who, meanly attached to the good fortune to which he has no claim, has no other object than to give you pleasure at the expense of the public weal and your Majesty's own fame. I shall in no way imitate his example;" and then went on to give the Emperor perhaps the severest scolding he had ever received from any of the lettered class, drawing the most invidious comparisons between the state of things which then existed and that of the early ages. Here he made a mistake; for Shih Huang Ti plumed himself, above all, upon his character as an innovator and an original, and nothing seems to have exasperated him so much as being continually pestered about antiquity. On the present occasion, breathing the incense of flattery and surrounded by a myriad realisations of his triumphs, he found it impossible to put up with such remonstrances, and, placing a strong restraint upon his rage, he interrupted the would-be Nathan, and told him not to waste his breath. "These points," he said, "have long ago been discussed and settled; and you have no business to bring them up again. Still, since you have been so ill-advised as to do so, I am ready to go into them once more, and listen to all that can be said upon both sides." Then he called upon Li Ssŭ for his opinion; and Li Ssŭ replied, in a somewhat lengthy speech, which embodied the famous proposal for burning all antiquated books whatever. The effect of such a suggestion, made in the presence of the Emperor and all the nobles, princes, and men of letters, in the midst of an imposing ceremonial, must have been dramatic in the extreme, and would furnish a grand theme alike for painter or for poet. But, whatever may have been the immediate circumstances which led to the adoption of the proposal, and whether it was "inspired" in the first instance by the Emperor or not, we know that it was put in force, and that it was the embodiment and culminating-point of the one great policy of change which was the guiding principle of this mad monarch from the beginning to the end of his reign.
The next enterprise undertaken by the Emperor of China was one of the highest public utility. It was none other than the construction of a magnificent highway, reaching from the city of Chiu-yuen, not far from the modern capital, to Yün-yang; a distance of eighteen hundred li, or six hundred English miles. This great work involved no little engineering skill, for there were valleys to be filled up, rivers to be crossed, mountains to be pierced, and marshes to be drained; and, what was worse, the literati began to express opinions of the Emperor and his undertakings unfavourable to his general policy. Of these two classes of obstacles, however,—the physical and the moral—he ignored the one and overcame the other; but not until many years had passed away, and an enormous number of men had spent their energies in accomplishing the task. Yet this was but the commencement of his constructive mania. He now addressed himself to the building of innumerable palaces, the plans, extent, and general description of which were extraordinary in the extreme. His original reason for this was that the capital was fast becoming too populous, and he longed for a quieter abode; so he first decided to build a new palace for himself in the Imperial Forest Park, where he could retire and live at ease. An idea of the magnitude of this suburban retreat may be formed from the fact that its main entrance or front gate was on the peak of a mountain, many tens of li to the south, from which stretched three great pathways leading to the palace; while the front hall of the residence itself was five hundred paces from east to west and fifty from north to south. These dimensions, however, are difficult to reconcile with the statement that the upper storey was spacious enough to accommodate more than ten thousand persons; nor are we much impressed by the fact that it was possible to erect a flagstaff five yards high downstairs. But the most remarkable feature of the whole was the plan on which it was arranged. The various edifices were so disposed as to correspond with and otherwise represent that part of the heavens which lies between the North Star, the Milky Way, and the constellation Aquila, the vacant spaces being denoted by courts, corridors, and winding paths. This, it is said, was intended partly as an acknowledgment of the benign celestial influences to which the Emperor ascribed the brilliant success that had always attended him, and partly as a monument of the vastness of his dominions, which could only be symbolised by an imitation of the starry vault on high. Seven hundred thousand workmen who had suffered the punishment of castration were engaged in this enormous undertaking; stone was brought from the mountains to the north, and wood from the modern provinces of Ssŭ-chuan and Hunan, as far as that of Shansi. Nor was this enough for his ambition. Three hundred palaces were built in the city of Hsien-yang itself, and four hundred more outside, a ponderous monolith being erected on the shores of the Eastern Sea to serve as one entrance to the gigantic labyrinth. Seventy thousand families were told off to live in the palaces when ready, farmers and bonzes being the most numerous, all of whom were instructed to prosecute the duties of their respective callings with assiduity. As the time had not yet arrived for the Emperor to receive the rewards of his achievements in Heaven itself, he anticipated that epoch by transforming that part of Earth honoured by his more immediate presence into a terrestrial Heaven in miniature.
By this time, however, the whole body of his ancient foes, the literati, were up in arms, and their indignation at his extravagances took the form of a most cutting satire or lampoon, in which he was represented in sufficiently odious colours. The Emperor was furious, especially as one of the principal movers in the affair was an old favourite of his, a person named Lu Shên, who had won his patronage by having pandered to his royal master's love of the marvellous and supernatural. The defection of his most trusted sorcerer cut him to the heart, and he had no mind for leniency. The consequence was that over four hundred and sixty literati, proving contumacious, paid for their temerity by a barbarous death, which so excited the indignation of Fu Su, the heir-apparent, as to draw from him a powerful and solemn protest. For this he was sent into exile, being compelled to proceed forthwith to Chang-chün and join the army under General Meng-t'ien.
Many other instances of atrocity, each one more monstrous and detestable than the other, are recorded of the Emperor about this time,—the most cruel massacres on the most trivial pretexts, and in obedience to the dictates of pure caprice and unwarranted malignity, occurring with fearful regularity. There were, however, other exercises of his power and restlessness which are less revolting to humanity. He instituted a system of investigations by which all the characteristics of every part of his wide domains were accurately ascertained and noted down; all the productions of the various provinces catalogued and valued; the state of agriculture and commerce carefully inquired into; and, in short, the whole empire parcelled out and tabulated. The emblem of the Chou dynasty had been Fire; he, therefore, as the conqueror of the Chou, adopted as the symbol of his domination the element Water, before which Fire itself is extinguished. He also consecrated the number Six, which was assigned by the astrologers to Mercury, the watery planet; and in pursuance of this fancy instituted a species of senary arithmetic, which formed the basis of all astronomical, geometrical, geomantical, commercial, and musical calculations, as well as of all standard weights and measures. The head-dress or crown he wore on state occasions was six inches high; his chariot, which was drawn by six horses, was six feet long; and the empire itself was divided by the square of six, being distributed into thirty-six provinces. He also selected black as the imperial colour, in which sombre tint he and all his officers were dressed on state occasions; the very flags, banners, furniture, and hangings of the palace being of the same gloomy though appropriate hue. But these and other harmless vagaries were insufficient to distract the attention of the people from his crimes, and the empire was by this time in a state of the profoundest dissatisfaction. Relief seemed hopeless. The imperial power, or, rather, the personal power of the Emperor, was beyond attack. Appeals to his compassion were worse than futile, for they served only to inflame the natural ferocity of his character. There was one weak point, however, and apparently only one, in the composition of this monster, which seemed open to assault; and this was his superstition. On this, then, it was determined to play; and a plot was speedily hatched, which culminated in the presentation to the Emperor of a bit of stone said to have fallen from the skies, and inscribed with an undeniably treasonable sentence. The shot missed; for the Emperor, shrewdly remarking that the inscription bore no signs of celestial workmanship, had the stone publicly burnt in the presence of a large concourse of persons, and concluded the solemnity by the massacre of all the spectators. It may seem surprising that, after so signal and unexpected a defeat, the malcontents should have resorted to a precisely similar ruse a second time; but such was the line they pursued. Brave as was the face that the Emperor put upon the menace he had already received, it was easy to see that he was seriously perturbed. He became gloomy and sullen, while his love of cruelty was fostered by the jealousy and suspicion which now made him their prey. In this condition, we may well imagine the effect upon his superstitious mind when a second stone was placed in his hands—a block of jade, engraved with an imitation of the tortoise-shell. This, he was gravely assured, had been presented to a courier, on his way from a distant province, by a strange and mysterious being clad in flowing robes, with an injunction to lose no time in delivering it to his imperial master; "for," affirmed the apparition, "in less than a year the Dragon Ancestor will be no more." Whether the Emperor really believed the fabrication, or whether he was shrewd enough to recognise the terrible truth that the danger threatening him came from his own subjects, we need not stop to inquire. He turned pale as he took the cold stone up in his hands, and appeared greatly agitated. It was some time before he could recover himself sufficiently to speak; and when at last the words came, they amounted only to a feeble utterance that, the Dragon being immortal, the legend was absurd. Alas! the very fact that that acceptation of the term Dragon involved an absurdity should have taught him that its true meaning was to be found nearer home. Perhaps it did; for the astrologers having been consulted, they unanimously advised the Emperor to take a journey. The recommendation was put in force. The doomed monarch bent his steps to the beautiful province of Chekiang, offering sacrifices as he went to the spirits of the holy Emperors Yao, Shun, and Yü. But, as if the mockery were too great, there his proud steps were stayed. The man who could lift up hands red with the blood of a million innocents in adoration of the three most saintly of the ancient kings, brought by this crowning outrage the doom upon his head. The last sacrifice had been completed, and preparations were being made for the worship of the Spirits of the Mountains, when the Emperor fell sick. Careless of his condition, he neglected the needful remedies till it was too late; and after suffering agonies for some days, he died.
The epoch whose events we have thus hastily and imperfectly sketched is perhaps the saddest in the whole of China's history. Sad, not because of the tyranny, the treachery, the bloodshed, and the crime which were its salient characteristics, but because of the fatal influence it has had upon the minds of the Chinese people ever since. A merely wicked sovereign does no harm to posterity. The memories of Chieh Kuei and Chou Hsin are execrated, but men are no worse for the wretches having lived. The mischief worked by Ts'in Shih Huang, however, is well-nigh irreparable; for he has inspired in the Chinese mind a rooted and consummate horror of change. Apart from his depravity, Shih Huang Ti aspired to be, and was, a great reformer. He sought to build the world afresh; to substitute new and better things for old ones to wean men's minds from their slavish adherence to the past; to instil into them the great truth that intellect and energy must march with the times; and to remodel worn-out institutions on a new basis. Was not this admirable? Was it not, indeed, the very thing that China needs to-day, and that we foreigners are spasmodically attempting to bring about? And yet the entire scheme was frustrated and brought into lasting disrepute by the selfishness, tyranny, and barbarity of its projector. His motive, in the first place, was impure. He did not aim at the regeneration of China for its own sake, but to feed his personal ambition and self-love. His power was unbounded; but he used it entirely with a view to his own glory and renown. His intellect was grand; but its grandeur was the very means of its abuse. The unpopularity of the reforms he made required the utmost conciliatoriness of policy to reconcile men's minds to them; instead of which we find remonstrances the most respectful being met with punishments of unequalled cruelty, and barbarous tortures being inflicted by way of example on those he knew were guiltless. Who can wonder, then, that the very word Reform should be hateful to the Chinese people, and that they should view any move in that direction with unfeigned suspicion and distrust?
- Authorities consulted:—The Shih Chi; the T'ung Ch'ien ; the Kok Shi Riak; the T'ai P'ing Kuang Chi; Mémoires concernant les Chinois; and Histoire de la Chine.
- Huang, Emperor; Ti, Ruler—the combination implying that he united the merits of the Three great emperors, with the virtues of the Five great rulers, of antiquity.