The first chapter in the History of the Former Han Dynasty contains an account of the rise of Liu Chi, who became Emperor Kao-tsu and the founder of the Han dynasty, and of the important events in his reign. In accordance with the canon of Chinese historical writing that the most reliable account is to be obtained by copying sources practically verbatim, this chapter is largely a copy of the chapter devoted to Kao-tsu in Sze-ma Ch'ien's Historical Records or Shih-chi, together with additions taken from the SC chapter on Hsiang Yü. Those chapters were probably themselves largely copied from the Ch'u-Han Ch'un-ch'iu by Lu Chia, who presented his book to Kao-tsu in 197 B.C. His book is now lost, but it was preserved in T'ang times, and notations of the information it contained in addition to what is found in the HS are found in the notes. Very little indeed is so noted. Probably this book was allowed to disappear because practically everything in it had been incorporated into the History.
We have thus in the first part of this chapter an account of the conflict that arose after the death of the First Emperor of the Ch'in dynasty, taken from documents contemporary with those events. The second part of the chapter contains the chronicle of events in Kao-tsu's reign after he assumed the title of Emperor. This part of the chapter is also copied largely from the corresponding chapter in the SC, but there are significant additions, especially among the imperial edicts recorded for that period. Pan Ku seems to have had access to a collection of imperial edicts preserved in the archives at the capital and to a set of annals of important events kept by imperial officials. Since he admired Szu-ma Ch'ien so greatly, he made Szu-ma Ch'ien's account the basis of his own account, and added to it or corrected it at the few places where changes seemed necessary.
The Imperial Annals, the first of which constitutes this chapter, are merely the chronological summary of the History of the Former Han Dynasty, a typical Chinese encyclopedic history. In this History the twelve Annals constitute only about one twentieth of the whole work. It is therefore not to be expected that the Annals should give the whole story of any reign or even any detailed account of the events in it. Pan Ku realized that history cannot be broken off at the death of each emperor. He conceived of history as the record of the deeds of individuals, so he put into his Memoirs and Treatises many facts that are essential to a full understanding of historical movements. While this chapter does contain many more details than usually appear in annals, yet much additional material is to be found in the relevant Memoirs. We have summarized in the Glossary the important Memoirs bearing on this and other reigns; it is suggested that the reader consult the Glossary sub the names of places and persons in each chapter. He will find there many events not to be found in the Annals. Pan Ku limited himself to one dynasty because the immense wealth of material at his command made a limitation of scope imperative. He has indeed been criticized for the great length to which his history grew, yet that great length was needed for an adequate picture of this unusual period. Because his history was planned as an encyclopedia rather than as a straightforward account, the extraordinarily complete picture given by Pan Ku will not be available until the whole of this long History has been translated.
The account of the rebellion against the Ch'in dynasty and the rise of Kao-tsu, given in the first part of this chapter, is quite logical and is told in detail. The China of that day was still largely confined to the Yellow River valley. In 209 B.C., at the opening of revolt, the imperial capital was at Hsien-yang, near the present city by the same name in Shensi. Central Shensi, then called Kuan-chung, is a great natural fortress, with mountains and the Yellow River making a formidable barrier to invasion. To the east, Kuan-chung was entered chiefly by the Han-ku Pass, which is easily defensible. Within this fortress is the Wei River valley, then very fertile and well populated. This region had been the seat of the Ch'in state, which had conquered China and whose king had taken the proud title of the First Emperor in 221 B.C. He had extinguished all the feudal nobility and had divided China into thirty-six commanderies, each governed by an official appointed by himself.
Southwest of Kuan-chung in the mountainous southwestern Shensi was the Han-chung Commandery, from which difficult roads led to the commanderies of Pa and Shu in the present Szechuan. This region had not yet been fully civilized; it was still a region of exile. Here was soon to be established the kingdom of Han(s), to which Liu Chi was appointed.
Travel east of Kuan-chung went chiefly down the Yellow River valley to the place where the great coastal plain begins to broaden out. There was also a road across the mountains of eastern Shensi and up the Fen River valley, which debouched through mountain passes onto the great plain in the present central Hopei. Because of its difficulties, traffic usually took the other road via the Yellow River valley. The northern road was the one followed by Han Hsin in his conquest of Chao, Yen, and Ch'i in 205-3 B.C. In the narrow east and west corridor which is the Yellow River valley east of Kuan-chung, lay the city of Jung-yang, which Kao-tsu long made his headquarters when fighting Hsiang Yü, and where he was besieged by the latter and almost captured. Here too was the immense granary of Ao, on a mountain by the shore of the Yellow River. It contained so much grain that for three years Kao-tsu's forces, numbering hundreds of thousands, continued to draw food from this granary, and yet did not exhaust it. Its location made it easily defensible; Hsiang Yü's failure to garrison adequately this stronghold left him without an appropriate base of supplies to fight Kao-tsu and eventually brought about his defeat. At the place where the plain starts to broaden out had been the last capital of the ancient state of Han(h).
The Yellow River at that time turned north from its present bed near the place where the Peiping-Hankow railroad now crosses the River, and flowed northeast, following approximately the present Grand Canal, until it emptied into the sea near the present Tientsin. Between this channel of the Yellow River and the Gulf of Chihli (then called the P'o Sea) had been the ancient state of Ch'i, one of the richest parts of China. West of the Yellow River had been the ancient state of Chao, and north of Chao, Yen. South of the Shantung promontory, in the present northern Kiangsu, was P'eng-ch'eng, the last capital of the ancient state of Ch'u. Not far away was the birthplace of Liu Chi. To the south in the seaboard plain, across the Yangtze River, was the K'uai-chi Commandery, which had formerly been the state of Wu, from which arose Hsiang Yü and his uncle.
The remainder of the present China, outside the Yellow River valley and the seaboard plain, had not yet become important. Even the Hsiang River valley, which later became the kingdom of Ch'ang-sha, was still considered as "low, damp, and poverty-stricken," and was used as a place of exile. Present Fukien was the seat of a semi-independent barbarian kingdom, Min-üeh; present Kwangtung was the seat of another barbarian kingdom, Nan-üeh. The First Emperor had conquered these regions and had sent convicts there as colonists, but these regions were still sparsely settled, largely barbarous, and played only a small part in the Chinese politics of the time. The significant regions of China, in which most of the matters related in this chapter occurred, were Kuan-chung, where was the capital, the narrow valley where the Yellow River flows eastwards, and the seaboard plain, where had been located the flourishing states that had been conquered by Ch'in. Among these states there started the revolt which finally conquered Ch'in.
In the background of this revolt there lay the exactions and cruelly overwhelming force wielded by the First Emperor. After his death, his son, the Second Emperor, continued his harsh policy. The people's resentment had gradually accumulated and a spark set it aflame.
Ch'en Shê was an ambitious farm boy who became one of the chiefs in a levy of men made in the present southern Honan, which had been part of the ancient kingdom of Ch'u. In the late summer of 209 B.C., a bad rain prevented this levy from reaching its destination on time. According to the Ch'in laws, the officers and men of the levy would have been condemned to death; they accordingly conspired to rebel. As a slogan they falsely called themselves partisans of Fu-su, the displaced heir of the First Emperor, and fabricated miracles to legitimize themselves. The rebellion was not thus at first openly directed against the dynasty, but was merely the act of men driven to desperation by over-harsh laws.
Success in capturing important cities and the favorable response of the people led Ch'en Shê to call himself the King of Ch'u and appoint subordinate generals to overrun the surrounding country. These generals found themselves welcomed by the people, and set themselves up as kings of the regions which they controlled. Soon much of eastern China was aflame.
The Ch'in forces were sent to put down the rebellion, with Chang Han, a very capable general, at their head. He defeated Ch'en Shê and relieved the siege of an important city. Ch'en Shê's important generals were likewise defeated, and he fled eastwards into the present northern Kiangsu, where he was assassinated by his own charioteer.
But neither the death of Ch'en Shê nor the continued successes of Chang Han could stop the rebellion. Ambitious men all over eastern China saw their opportunity, excited their neighbors to arise and massacre the officials appointed by the Ch'in dynasty, and put themselves at the head of a rebel force. Against such a wholesale uprising even the ablest general could do little, for he could not be everywhere. Soon the less able rebel generals subordinated themselves to the more successful ones.
In the present southern Kiangsu, an uncle and nephew, Hsiang Liang and Hsiang Yü, murdered the Commandery Administrator, took his army, and marched north. They were descendants of the famous generals in Ch'u, and as they came north other generals came to them with their armies. They set up a successor to Ch'en Shê in the person of a scion from the ancient kings of Ch'u, thus legitimizing their rebellion and bringing further recruits. Their capital was put at P'eng-ch'eng, in the present northern Kiangsu.
Among the generals who had previously come to Hsiang Liang was Liu Chi, the future Kao-tsu. (There is no evidence that he used the name Liu Pang until after his coronation, when that name was tabooed.) He was a former village official who had become a bandit as the result of official oppression and bad luck, and had been summoned with his followers when the chief town of his commandery intended to rebel. He killed its vacillating magistrate when the magistrate changed his mind and refused to rebel, then he made himself master of P'ei, a city in the present northern Kiangsu, together with surrounding cities. From that time he was known as the Lord of P'ei. A subordinate who had been left in charge of Feng went over to another rebel general who had a better pedigree than Liu Chi, and Liu Chi was unable to retake Feng. He finally applied to Hsiang Liang, who gave him troops and enabled him to recapture Feng. When Chang Han defeated and killed Hsiang Liang, Liu Chi attached himself closely to Hsiang Yü and was made a marquis by the King of Ch'u.
Meanwhile rebellion had flared throughout the present Shantung and Hopei. The King of Chao was besieged by the Ch'in forces at Chü-lu in central Hopei and sent to Ch'u for rescue. At that time two projects required the urgent attention of Ch'u: the raising of the siege at Chü-lu and the carrying of the war to the capital of the dynasty at Hsien-yang, in Kuan-chung. The ablest generals, including Hsiang Yü, were sent north, and Liu Chi was sent west.
The General-in-chief in charge of the army sent to the relief of Chü-lu proved dilatory and incompetent, so Hsiang Yü boldly killed him and took charge of the army. Hsiang Yü's prestige was so high that generals from other parts of the country joined him in rescuing Chao. When he crossed the Chang River he boldly burnt his boats and destroyed all but three days' provisions, then advanced to the attack. In nine battles he defeated the besiegers, captured their general, burnt their camp, and raised the siege. The fame of this deed brought to Hsiang Yü's standard the outstanding generals of the country. Then he turned his attention to Chang Han.
Chang Han had been fighting rebels for almost two full years; they had gained in strength in spite of his victories. A defeated general could expect little but execution from the harsh authorities at the capital. Chang Han was said to have lost over a hundred thousand men in those two years. The imperial authority was then in the hands of a eunuch Chancellor of State, who had slaughtered his enemies. Chang Han was now defeated in battle by Hsiang Yü, and, when the latter promised him a kingdom, Chang Han was ready to surrender, although his army was said still to contain more than two hundred thousand soldiers. When the surrendered army showed signs of discontent at this action of its generals, Hsiang Yü had it massacred at night. Then he started for Hsien-yang with an army said to be of four hundred thousand men.
Meanwhile Liu Chi had worked his way westwards. He had been sent off with a totally inadequate force and with the promise that the person who conquered the capital would be made the king of that region. He spent a whole year going westwards, gathering recruits, preaching rebellion, making friends, and fighting with the Ch'in armies, usually, but not always, successfully. When he reached the borders of Kuan-chung, he first sent a messenger into that region to preach rebellion, then avoided the easily defensible Han-ku Pass, made a detour to the southwards, and entered the lightly defended Wu Pass. After tricking and crushing the Ch'in army sent against him, he arrived at the suburbs of the capital, which was empty of troops. There, in Nov./Dec. 207 B.C., the last ruler of the Ch'in dynasty came and surrendered to him. Kao-tsu later dated the beginning of his reign with this event.
Liu Chi showed himself generous and kindly. Instead of looting the city, he sealed up the imperial palaces and treasuries and moved his troops out of the capital, for Hsiang Yü might ask for an accounting of its treasures. Hsiao Ho, his future Chancellor, took the charts and registers out of the imperial chancellor's office. Through their possession, Liu Chi was later able to know the strategic points of the empire, the size of the population, and the people's grievances. Liu Chi gathered the leaders of the region and announced to them that he had been promised the kingship of Kuan-chung and that he was going to agree with them on a code consisting of only three articles: death for murder, proportionate punishment for robbery and assault, and the repeal of all other penal laws. While this drastic abrogation of the detailed and vexatious laws in effect in Ch'in could not be entirely carried out, yet it actually meant a great lightening of the people's burdens and secured for Liu Chi their good will. Then Liu Chi sent a guard to the Han-ku Pass.
When Hsiang Yü reached that Pass and found it barred, he forced it and marched on to the capital. Not only was he enraged that Liu Chi should have dared to try to keep him out (an act of rebellion by a subordinate against his Commander-in-chief), but he was jealous that another person should have captured the capital. With an overwhelming force, he hastened to crush Liu Chi. But the latter was forewarned and came to make apologies. With lordly generosity, Hsiang Yü accepted them, especially since the treasures of the capital had been left for him to loot. He marched into the capital, massacred its people, killed the surrendered King, and burnt the imperial palaces. That fire was the real "Burning of the Books," for in the imperial palaces there had been preserved the proscribed literature for the use of the imperial Frudits and officials. Those fires did not cease until the third month.
Hsiang Yü proceeded to divide the conquered empire. It was a military man's division. The King of Ch'u, who had done little but reign, was nominally elevated to be Emperor, but really exiled to southern Hunan, where an emissary of Hsiang Yü soon assassinated him. Hsiang Yü made himself King of Ch'u and Lord Protector of the Empire, with Kiangsu, southern Shantung, and parts of Honan and the Yangtze valley as his territory. The agreement about making the conqueror of Kuan-chung its king was disregarded; Liu Chi was made King of Han(s), a region located in southwestern Shensi and Szechuan. Kuan-chung was divided into three kingdoms, with the three generals of Chang Han's surrendered army as its kings. Chang Han was put in that kingdom which bordered upon Han(s), to serve as a buffer against Liu Chi. Those generals and nobles who had conquered parts of the country and had followed Hsiang Yü to the capital were confirmed as kings of their territory. In so doing, a few former kings had to be moved, and T'ien Jung, who had conquered Ch'i (northern Shantung), but had refused to submit to Hsiang Yü, was left out. P'eng Yüeh, a bandit chieftain in eastern Honan, was likewise neglected.
Liu Chi saw that any opposition to this unjust division was useless, so went to his capital, burning the bridges behind him; Hsiang Yü and the other generals went to their kingdoms. A month later Liu Chi returned, surprised and defeated Chang Han, and besieged him in his capital. Then Liu Chi overran Kuang-chung. In Ch'i, T'ien Jung likewise attacked the kings that Hsiang Yü had appointed to that region, and made himself king.
Hsiang Yü attacked Ch'i first, for it was nearer his own kingdom and he was told that Liu Chi had no designs on the east. He defeated T'ien Jung, who was then assassinated. But Hsiang Yü's excesses in the conquest of Ch'i so roused the people that the dead King's brother was able to raise an army to continue the struggle. Meanwhile Liu Chi had established himself firmly in Kuan-chung and invaded Honan as far as Lo-yang. When the assassination of the new Emperor by an emissary of Hsiang Yü became known, Liu Chi preached a crusade against the murderer, persuaded and compelled five kings to follow him, and marched east with a coalition army said to comprise five hundred and sixty thousand men. He captured and entered Hsiang Yü's capital, P'eng-ch'eng. Hsiang Yü was in Ch'i; with thirty thousand picked troops, he reached P'eng-ch'eng by forced marches, and surprised the coalition army at the city where it had been feasting, crushing it utterly. A hundred thousand men were forced into the rivers and drowned.
Liu Chi escaped and fortified himself in Jung-yang (near the present Cheng-hsien, Honan). There he was reinforced by new troops from Kuan-chung and elsewhere. Then he sent emissaries to stir up rebellion against Hsiang Yü in Anhui, and sent Han Hsin, who was his titular General-in-chief, to conquer Shansi and Hopei, and thence to press into Shantung.
When Hsiang Yü proceeded to besiege Liu Chi in Jung-yang, Liu Chi was now able to offer peace, dividing China in half, with only that part west of Jung-yang for his own. Hsiang Yü refused and pressed the siege. Liu Chi had to escape and permit the city to be captured; he returned to his impregnable fortress of Kuan-chung, and drew Hsiang Yü into northern Hupeh by going out of the southern part of Kuan-chung. Meanwhile P'eng Yüeh was looting near P'eng-ch'eng, so Hsiang Yü had to return to his capital. Then Liu Chi recaptured the cities he had lost in Honan. When Hsiang Yü returned to Honan, Liu Chi fled, but sent assistance to P'eng Yüeh, who burnt Hsiang Yü's stores. When Hsiang Yü pursued P'eng Yüeh, Liu Chi crushed the army Hsiang Yü had left behind and took possession of his treasures. Meanwhile Han Hsin, in a brilliant campaign, had conquered the region into which he had been sent, and had established himself in Ch'i.
Liu Chi entrenched himself in the hills northwest of Cheng-hsien, where he could draw food from the immense granary at Ao. There he was besieged by Hsiang Yü. But Anhui and Shantung revolted against Hsiang Yü; P'eng Yüeh cut off his supplies, and finally Hsiang Yü had to make peace and agree to the same division of the country as that previously proposed by Liu Chi.
When Hsiang Yü returned east, Liu Chi, disregarding the treaty, pursued him with fresh troops. By promises of territory, he induced Han Hsin, P'eng Yüeh, and others to unite with his forces. Together they besieged Hsiang Yü in his camp near his capital. By a trick they got him to flee from his camp with a body of cavalry, pursued, and killed him in Dec./Jan. 203/2 B.C.
Liu Chi now feared Han Hsin most, so he rode into Han Hsin's entrenchments, took away his army, and appointed him King of Ch'u. Ch'i was too valuable a territory to be left to anyone who might rebel. Liu Chi also sent his generals to overrun Ch'u and extinguish rebellion there.
Liu Chi's nobles and adherents now proposed to make him Emperor. He declined the requisite number of times, and was enthroned on Feb. 28, 202 B.C. He proceeded to organize his empire and appoint his followers as marquises or kings. At a great banquet, he tactfully declared that his success had been due to Chang Liang, his chief advisor, Hsiao Ho, his Chancellor, and Han Hsin, his best general. The organization of the empire was largely the work of Hsiao Ho, who had done no fighting, but whom Kao-tsu esteemed most highly among all his nobles. Because of its natural strength, Kao-tsu moved his capital from Lo-yang to Ch'ang-an in Kuan-chung (Shensi).
During the remainder of his reign, Kao-tsu was chiefly occupied in putting down a series of revolts, and in appointing his sons and relatives to the kingdoms thus vacated. When Kao-tsu took the throne, there were seven kings in the empire who were not members of the imperial family, and no members of the imperial family who were kings. Gradually the kings who were not members of the imperial family revolted or were disposed of. The first to revolt was Tsang Tu, who had been a follower of Hsiang Yü and had been appointed by him as King of Yen, with his capital at the present Pei-p'ing. Kao-tsu marched against him, captured and executed him, and made his own boyhood companion and best friend, Lu Wan, the King of Yen. Then Li Chi, who was a marquis and had previously been a general of Hsiang Yü, but had submitted to Kao-tsu, became afraid of treachery, and rebelled. He was routed. Han Hsin, now King of Ch'u, failed to deliver up promptly a friend who had taken refuge with him and who had been proscribed by Kao-tsu; Kao-tsu marched to Ch'u with an army, caught Han Hsin unprepared, and arrested him. He was imprisoned, then pardoned and made a marquis, but kept at court where he could be watched.
Han(w) Hsin had been made King of Han(h) in Honan. But Kao-tsu wanted that territory free from possible rebels, so in the spring of 201, he moved Han(w) Hsin to be King of a new Han(h), located in the present Shansi. That autumn, the Huns besieged Han(w) Hsin in his capital. Kao-tsu suspected his loyalty and made the mistake of sending him a letter reproving him; whereupon Han(w) Hsin became suspicious of Kao-tsu's intentions and went over to the Huns. Kao-tsu himself took the field and routed Han(w) Hsin, but Han(w) Hsin's generals and the Huns continued to make incursions and to stir up trouble. At Lou-fan, Kao-tsu's soldiers were almost frozen to death; at P'ing-ch'eng, Kao-tsu was almost captured by the Huns. The invaders were finally driven out.
At the court of his son-in-law, Chang Ao, King of Chao, Kao-tsu did not bother to be polite; the scrupulous Chancellor of the kingdom was enraged, and ambushed Kao-tsu the next time he traveled through the kingdom. A premonition saved Kao-tsu's life. When the conspiracy was discovered, its members committed suicide and Chang Ao was degraded to be a marquis.
Then in Sept./Oct. 197, Ch'en Hsi, whom Kao-tsu sincerely trusted, and who had been made Chancellor in Tai (southwestern Chahar), was induced by Han(w) Hsin to revolt. Kao-tsu was unprepared for another revolt; he rushed to Han-tan (in Hopei), but found himself without an army. Even an urgent call for troops was slow in bringing results. Kao-tsu spent the winter in Han-tan waiting. Not until spring was Ch'en Hsi's power broken and Han(w) Hsin killed as he came to Ch'en Hsi's aid. Ch'en Hsi was pursued and killed the next winter.
Meanwhile, in the capital, the Empress née Lü had become so alarmed and suspicious that she lured Han Hsin into the palace and executed him. P'eng Yüeh had sent troops to the assistance of Kao-tsu at Han-tan, but had failed to come himself; whereupon Kao-tsu impatiently and angrily sent a rebuke to P'eng Yüeh. Then P'eng Yüeh himself wanted to go to Kao-tsu. He was however warned that the Emperor would probably execute him in anger. So he feigned illness. Then a disgruntled official went to Kao-tsu and informed him that P'eng Yüeh was planning rebellion. Kao-tsu thereupon had P'eng Yüeh arrested, dismissed him from his kingdom, and sent him into exile. On the way he met the Empress; she promised to plead for him, but instead she had Kao-tsu informed that P'eng Yüeh was again planning to revolt, whereupon he was executed. The remaining loyal kings who were not members of the imperial family were now very suspicious, wondering when their turn would come.
Ch'ing Pu had been Hsiang Yü's Commander-in-chief, and had been made King of Chiu-chiang. An emissary of Kao-tsu had induced him to rebel against Hsiang Yü; he had been compelled to flee to Kao-tsu in Jan./Feb. 204 with a very few men. Kao-tsu then used him to stir up trouble for Hsiang Yü in the lower Yangtze region, and gave him a kingdom in southern Anhui and northern Kiangsi. After the execution of Han Hsin and P'eng Yüeh, Ch'ing Pu became very nervous, and started to collect troops so as not to be caught defenseless. Word of this move was brought to Ch'ang-an, and an envoy was sent to investigate; Ch'ing Pu feared what was coming, and put his army into the field in open rebellion. He was an able general and fighter; he routed two neighboring kings belonging to the imperial house, killing one of them. But Kao-tsu had kept a large standing army ready for emergencies; he was himself ill, nevertheless he took the field against Ch'ing Pu, routed him in northern Anhui, drove him south, and finally compelled him to flee. Ch'ing Pu was killed by the people at a stopping-place.
After the death of Ch'ing Pu, no one else dared to rebel; indeed it is very doubtful that even he would have rebelled had he not felt that there was no other way to escape execution. It was discovered however that Lu Wan, the King of Yen, had had secret communication with the Huns and with Ch'en Hsi. Lu Wan had been afraid that he would be the next king to be dispossessed and killed, so had dallied with the thought of rebellion. Kao-tsu sent an emissary to investigate the matter. Some evidence was unearthed and Kao-tsu summoned Lu Wan to court. He claimed illness, so the Emperor sent two generals to attack him. Lu Wan did not think of resisting the imperial forces; he took his family and several thousand troops and moved just outside the Great Wall, hoping for a chance to come to court and beg his old friend for pardon. The Emperor's death deprived him of that chance, and he fled to the Huns, who gave him a kingdom.
There was left now only one king not of the imperial house---the King of Ch'ang-sha. His kingdom was so small and unimportant that it was not worth while to disturb him. Kao-tsu's suspicions had eliminated almost all those not of his own family and had put his clan and the men from his prefecture into practically all the important positions. At his death, nine of Kao-tsu's sons and relatives occupied kingdoms.
Kao-tsu was ill before he started out against Ch'ing Pu; a wound from a stray arrow became infected and killed him seven months later. While he was suffering from this wound, the problem of the succession to the throne became acute. As a political move in 205, ten years previously, Kao-tsu had appointed Ying, the son of the Empress née Lü, as his Heir-apparent. The boy was now fifteen. He had been domineered over by his mother, and had turned out to be a weakling. Kao-tsu was not pleased with him, saying openly that Ying was not like himself. Kao-tsu's favorite concubine was the Lady née Ch'i, whose son, Ju-yi, was only nine. Kao-tsu liked the boy greatly and said, "He is like me." The Empress hated the Lady née Ch'i bitterly, and Kao-tsu realized that after his death the Empress would probably try to injure the Lady née Ch'i and Ju-yi. For Kao-tsu it was a choice between a weak heir with a strong and capable but cruel mother, and a mere child with a beloved mother. The Lady née Ch'i's pleadings finally brought Kao-tsu to the point of ordering the feast at which he would announce the change. But during that feast he found that Ying had secured the following of certain learned men whom Kao-tsu had been unable to attract, and so refused to change the succession.
When Kao-tsu died, on June 1, 195 B.C., the Empress née Lü was at first uncertain whether her party would be able to enthrone her son. She concealed the death for four days and toyed with the notion of assassinating the prominent generals who might stand in the way of her son. But she soon saw that this policy was not really feasible, so distributed rewards to them liberally, and succeeded in enthroning her son on the day of Kao-tsu's burial, twenty-two days after his death.
Kao-tsu was probably forty when rebellion first broke out against the Second Emperor. His early life had been spent in farming, holding a village office, and finally, as a bandit chieftain. His ability to make decisions rapidly and surely and his willingness to consult with and take advice of others were powerful assets. He was ambitious, yet he recognized the abilities of others, and realized that he must depend on others for his own greatness. He had the ability to choose the right man for the place. Han Hsin was utterly undistinguished, a common soldier who had been a mere peasant and a beggar, when Hsiao Ho recommended him to Kao-tsu; he was immediately made General-in-chief. Kao-tsu's personality attracted to him able men and kept them loyal. Hsiao Ho, his Chancellor, was his former official superior. He had been Chief Official in the prefecture where Liu Chi was a village official; when the Prefect showed himself incapable, Hsiao Ho assisted in summoning Liu Chi, helped to make him Prefect, and became his loyal follower. Li Yi-chi, a garrulous Confucian, was so attracted by the sight of Liu Chi that he voluntarily came to him.
As a general, Kao-tsu showed great but not superlative capacity. He won most of his battles, but lost a respectable number of them. His tactics in the campaign against Hsiang Yü were admirable. Liu Chi refused to fight a pitched battle and kept Hsiang Yü running from one part of the country to another, then defeated Hsiang Yü's generals when Hsiang Yü had gone. Hsiang Yü never lost a battle in which he commanded, yet Liu Chi succeeded in eliminating him. It was as a politician that Kao-tsu showed himself most capable; he drew away from Hsiang Yü his capable subordinates, inducing them to revolt or stirring up Hsiang Yü to suspect and dismiss them. Kao-tsu was himself suspicious of even his greatest intimates and was quite careless about good manners. But he was just and not opinionated, so that he was quite ready to make changes. He was favored by circumstances in many ways, but he also created his circumstances. His achievements mark him as one of the world's great men.
The accession of Kao-tsu marks, in at least two important circumstances, an epoch in Chinese history. In the first place, it marks the final breakdown of the ancient aristocracy.
The Ch'in dynasty had disestablished all noble titles. But the noble families remained, and retained much of their prestige. A large number of the early leaders against the Ch'in dynasty were aristocrats. Hsiang Liang and Hsiang Yü, who became the dominant leaders, were members of the family which had given generals to the state of Ch'u, and owed much of their success to their family's prestige. When they killed the Administrator of K'uai-chi, the people came to them because of their family's reputation. That reputation likewise brought them important recruits when they started north. When Hsiang Yü killed Sung Yi, his family's prestige enabled the former to secure the following of the army. The first leaders in Ch'i, T'ien Tan, T'ien Fu, T'ien Tu, T'ien An, T'ien Jung, T'ien Kuang, and T'ien Heng were all of the princely family in Ch'i. Wei Chiu, who became King of Wei(h), was a scion of the ancient princes of Wei(h). Chao Hsieh, the first King of Chao after the rebellion began, was a descendant of the kings of Chao. Han Ch'eng, the first King of Han(h), was likewise a descendant of its kings. King Huai, the third King of Ch'u, was a grandson of the older King Huai of Ch'u. Indeed, there was a distinct tendency in all the states to make the descendant of some noble family the titular ruler of the state, although that state might have been conquered by a commoner. The commoner took a subordinate position, such as Chancellor or General-in-chief. Ch'en Ying was offered the kingship in Ch'u by the people, but he refused, for he did not come from a noble family.
On the other hand, some of the early leaders, especially the earliest ones, were commoners. Few aristocrats would risk themselves until the people had taken the lead. Ch'en Shê, who inaugurated the revolt and became the first King of Ch'u, was a commoner. So were Ching Chü, the second King of Ch'u, whose reign lasted only three months, Wu Ch'en, the first King of Chao, Chang Erh, the Lieutenant Chancellor and finally the King of Chao, Ch'en Yu, the General-in-chief of Chao who made himself King of Tai, Han Kuang, the first King of Yen, and others, including Liu Chi.
But the aristocrats did not do so well in the test of severe competition. Indeed they did so poorly that in the apportionment of kingdoms after the downfall of the Ch'in dynasty, Hsiang Yü contemptuously disregarded birth. Thirteen kingdoms were given to commoners and only six to scions of noble families. Three of these nobles were given their kingly assignments merely because they had followed along in the train of Hsiang Yü, so that he could not very well dismiss them; they were degraded by being removed to kingdoms smaller than those they had previously occupied. Two more were appointed to Ch'i, which seems to have had stronger aristocratic prejudices than other parts of the country. The only aristocrat who really distinguished himself was Hsiang Yü. One king, Han Ch'eng, had shown himself so weak that Hsiang Yü killed him and put a commoner in his place. When King Huai dared to oppose Hsiang Yü, the latter had him exiled and assassinated. The T'ien family in Ch'i showed some vigor, but it was crushed. Thus the drastic testing of war eliminated most of the noblemen very soon after the revolt began.
The result of this debacle among the aristocracy was a turning of popular opinion away from the aristocrats and a strengthening of its attitude to those commoners who had dared to set themselves up as leaders. Liu Chi's followers were practically all commoners, and came, especially at first, mostly from his own district, P'ei. Only one aristocrat achieved any distinction in his group---Chang Liang, whose family had given the Chancellors to Han(h). He acted as Liu Chi's advisor; in physique he was sickly and weak, and as a general he was a failure, although as a strategist he was excellent. Practically all of Kao-tsu's nobles were self-made men who had achieved distinction in the hurly-burly of war. His Empress had an aristocratic surname, Lü, but her family had no aristocratic connections.
The accession of Kao-tsu thus represents a popular movement. He seems to have caught the popular imagination; he maintained personally the bearing and habits of a peasant rather than those of an aristocrat. He was continually squatting down---something that, in those days before the introduction of chairs, no cultivated person would do and all peasants did. The language he used so vituperatively was that of a peasant, so that many cultivated persons avoided him. Yet his very evident desire to help the common people attracted to him such people as Li Yi-chi (cf. 43:1b). The common people turned to Liu Chi and helped him. The old gentleman Tung (1A: 31a) advised Liu Chi to use the assassination of Emperor Yi as a pretext for a league against Hsiang Yü. Thus the accession of Kao-tsu marks the definite ending of the ancient aristocratic tradition. He showed that even the highest position does not require aristocratic descent.
Yet the aristocratic prejudice was not thus easily exorcised. For Kao-tsu himself there was fabricated a long pedigree, tracing his descent to the nobility of Chin and the early emperors; this pedigree served to convert many followers. The families he ennobled became as aristocratic as the old nobility had been. But there was a great difference, for the Han nobility was under the thumb of the emperor. The commonest punishment for crime was deprivation of noble rank. One after another family was deprived of its rank, so that very few noble families lasted more than a century. With kingdoms and marquisates thus enduring only for a time and revokable for cause, hereditary nobility counted for much less than before. Under such circumstances the aristocratic prejudice was greatly weakened, until at last it disappeared.
In the second place, the accession of Kao-tsu marks the victory of the Confucian conception that the imperial authority is limited, should be exercised for the benefit of the people, and should be founded upon justice, over the legalistic conception of arbitrary and absolute sovereignty. While Kao-tsu and his successors technically remained absolute sovereigns, in practise their powers were much limited by custom.
The theory and practise of government in the Ch'in state and empire was that of centralized absolutism. The Ch'in ideal of government was that "none will dare not to do what the ruler likes, but all will avoid what he dislikes" (The Book of Lord Shang, Duyvendak, p. 292). The primary concern of Lord Shang's theorizing, like that of Macchiavelli, was to make the ruler all powerful. In this respect, the First Emperor of the Ch'in dynasty was a thorough-going exemplar of the legalist theory.
While Kao-tsu adopted many of the Ch'in practises, he nevertheless realized that what the people most condemned in the Ch'in rule was precisely this unreasoning absolutism, and he carefully avoided any semblance of such absolutism. He realized that he was handicapped by his peasant birth, and knew that he must gain the good-will of the people in order to maintain his rule. Hence he consciously adopted the policy of always considering the interests of the people and the requirements of justice and righteousness. Before he entered Kuan-chung, he sent an emissary to its people in order to acquaint them with his virtuous intentions. At the surrender of the Ch'in king, he was careful to be generous and indulgent and to avoid plundering the people. One of his first official acts in Ch'in was to summon the people and inform them that he was doing away with the severe and cruel laws of Ch'in---an act which helped him greatly when he had later to reconquer the region. He refused to exact food from the people for his army, preferring to use that stored up in the government granaries. When Hsiang Yü gave him a kingdom in Han(s), he asserted that injustice had been done because a covenant had been broken. He exempted from taxes those people who had been too heavily burdened in furnishing the armies with supplies, and granted his soldiers various and increasing exemptions. He continued the practise of giving the representatives of the people the position of San-lao, and had them advise with the officials so that the people would have a direct voice in government. He granted general amnesties on all appropriate occasions. He had his soldiers who had died in battle enshrouded and encoffined and sent home to be buried at official expense. He appointed caretakers for the graves of the great kings, in order that their hungry manes might not disturb the country. He waited to assume the title of Emperor until it was formally offered him by his followers, and then accepted it because "the vassal kings would be favored by it and they considered it to be an advantage to all the people in the world." At his accession he freed all slaves and restored to civil rights all refugees and exiles. He granted aristocratic ranks to all his soldiers. He fixed the amount of the military tax so that the people would not be oppressed by exactions.
More important still, soon after his accession he adopted the practise of not taking the initiative in appointing any of his relatives or sons to any kingdoms or nobilities, but acting only at the suggestion of his followers. Of course it was always possible to give hints to others about what the Emperor wanted to be done. Yet this practise that the Emperor acts only at the suggestion of others became a real check upon absolutism. At first it seems to have been confined to the enfeoffment of the emperor's sons, but later it was extended to other important matters, so that the standard practise in enacting an administrative measure, even the appointment of an Empress, came to be that some official or group would memorialize the Emperor concerning what they thought should be done, and the Emperor approved the suggestion.
This custom, that the ruler acts at the suggestion of his important subordinates, was a real and often effective limitation upon the imperial power. When the Emperor Hsiao-hui died, the Empress Dowager nén Lü was unable to obtain any effective power until one of the great officials suggested to her that she appoint her two nephews to the highest positions in the government and members of her own family as kings. Until that suggestion was made, she could only spend her time weeping helplessly. After it had been made, she rewarded very highly the person who first suggested it (cf. Glossary, sub Liu Tse). When this custom was disregarded by the ruler, the results were disastrous. After the Empress Dowager née Lü had dismissed the son of Emperor Hui from the throne, she asked the high officials to suggest his successor. The Emperor had had only this one son, although the Empress Dowager had enfeoffed six other babes on the pretense that they were his sons. The officials refused to suggest any of them for the throne, and the Empress Dowager, on her own motion, appointed one of these babes as Emperor. But the officials, by refusing to suggest him, had disclaimed responsibility for him, and, when the Empress Dowager died, they selected a son of Kao-tsu as the new emperor and killed this boy whom the Empress had put upon the throne.
This Han custom was expressed most forcibly after the death of the Empress Dowager née Lü. The high officials sent someone to tell her nephew, Lü Lu, who was then in control of the army, that "the establishing of the kings . . . was a matter all done after discussion with the great officials, announcement, and information to the vassal kings. The vassal kings considered it suitable." Lü Lu was warned that if he tried to do anything contrary to the will of the great officials, the greatest disaster would come upon him. So strongly did he realize the truth of the assumption behind those words, namely that the rule of the emperor is not absolute, but is vested in him in consultation with the great officials, that he finally (though too late) resigned his powers. After the extermination of the Lü family, the next emperor was chosen by the high officials and the heads of the Liu family.
The Han rulers also recognized the principle that the empire belonged, not to Kao-tsu alone, but also to his followers and associates, for they had helped him to conquer it. As long as any of Kao-tsu's companions were alive, they and no others were given the important positions in the government. Perhaps this was the reason that the high officials tolerated the Empress Dowager née Lü as long as she was alive. She had taken an active part in the conquest of the country. In 179, Emperor Wen gave additional rewards to those of Kao-tsu's followers who were still alive, and sought out some thirty of his followers who had not been previously rewarded. For this reason, until 176, the imperial chancellors were all military men. Not until 150 was there an imperial chancellor who had not been a follower of Kao-tsu, and then it was Chou Ya-fu, the son of Kao-tsu's General, Chou P'o, who had also been Chancellor under Emperor Wen. The first chancellor who was not even a son of Kao-tsu's followers was Wei Wan, appointed in 143 B.C. Thus Kao-tsu's followers controlled the government for sixty years after his accession. Even after that time, the government made an effort to continue the marquisates of Kao-tsu's outstanding followers, in spite of the lack and derelicitions of their heirs. As Kao-tsu said in an edict of 196 B.C., "I, by the spiritual power of Heaven and by my capable gentlemen and high officials, have subjugated and possess the empire. . . . Capable men have already shared with me in its pacification. Should it be that any capable persons are not to share with me in its comfort and its profit?" The emperor was thus limited by the necessity of giving high office to those who did outstanding services to the state.
Since the government cultivated popular support and the Emperor recognized that he depended upon his officials, it was quite natural that Kao-tsu should have initiated the procedure which finally brought about the Chinese imperial civil service examination system. In an edict of 196 B.C., possibly at the instigation of Hsiao Ho, Kao-tsu ordered the officials to send to the Chancellor of State all people of excellent reputation and manifest virtue, so that their accomplishments and appearance could be recorded and they could be given positions. Emperors Wen and Wu continued this practise, and the examination system gradually grew out of it.
We have said that this conception of imperial rule as limited by consultation with the high ministers and by moral considerations was specifically Confucian. This doctrine is to be found in the Book of History, where the great rulers consult their ministers on all important matters. It is the outgrowth of the attitude represented in that Book (II, iii, iv, 7), that Heaven sees as the people see, in Mencius (VII, ii, xiv, 1), when he says that the sovereign is inferior to the people and the spirits, and in Hsün-tzu (IX, 4), "The prince is the boat; the common people are the water. The water can support the boat, or the water can capsize the boat." The Han dynasty became the first great patrons of Confucianism and under Emperor Wu that philosophy became an important influence in the theory of government and in the training of government servants. It has not always been realized that this Confucian influence began with Kao-tsu.
Kao-tsu was not himself a Confucian. He seems indeed to have had, especially in his earlier days, a deep dislike for the learned pedants of the time. It is said, in the biography of Li Yi-chi, that before 207 B.C., probably when Kao-tsu had just started out as a general, some literati came to him in full costume, with their literati's bonnets on, and that Kao-tsu, in order to show his contempt for them, suddenly snatched off a bonnet and urinated into it. It is also told that when, in May 205, Shu-sun T'ung came to Kao-tsu and wore his literatus's robes, Kao-tsu hated it, so that Shu-sun T'ung changed and wore short clothes like those worn in Ch'u. Thus Kao-tsu had an aversion to the sight of the Confucian literatus.
That fact does not however warrant us in holding that Kao-tsu disliked Confucianism and was not influenced by it. Quite the contrary seems to have been the case. In Kao-tsu's father's home, four sons grew to maturity. The two oldest sons seem to have been farmers; Liu Chi, the third to grow up, studied military matters and became the Chief of a T'ing; Liu Chiao, the youngest, was sent to the state of Lu, which was not far from the homestead, and studied with three Confucian teachers. Later he studied the Book of Odes with Fou-ch'iu Po, a disciple of Hsün-tzu, who became the most outstanding member of the Confucian school. After Liu Chiao had been made the King of Ch'u, he summoned the three Confucian teachers with whom he had studied in his youth, and honored them as his Palace Grandees. In the time of the Empress Dowager née Lü, he sent his own son to study under Foueh'iu Po. Liu Chiao is furthermore said to have been very fond of the Book of Odes and to have himself written a commentary on it. Thus Liu Chiao, the younger brother of Kao-tsu, was himself a devoted and life-long Confucian, who secured an excellent Confucian classical education at the center of Confucian culture.
Liu Chiao was an intimate follower and companion of Kao-tsu from the time that Kao-tsu started out as a general. Kao-tsu left his older brother, Liu Chung (the oldest, Liu Po, had died previously), and Shen Yi-chi at the homestead to care for his father and wife, and took his other friends and followers with him to swell his army. It is said specifically that when Kao-tsu became Emperor, Liu Chiao waited upon him. He and Lu Wan, a boyhood friend, were the two persons closest to the Emperor. They had access to his private chambers, served as intermediaries, carried messages, and helped him to decide matters and make secret plans. Through his brother, much Confucian influence undoubtedly reached Kao-tsu. No one else of any education had as close relations with him; while Kao-tsu disliked the pedant and the pedant's appearance, yet he probably welcomed the Confucian teaching when it came to him divorced from the pedant.
There were several others who undoubtedly influenced Kao-tsu towards Confucianism. The earliest was Chang Liang, who came to Kao-tsu in February 208. He was not a literatus, but a politician, the descendant of the chancellors in Han(h). He was a well-educated man, and on occasion is represented as using classical allusions to back up advice on politics in a thoroughly Confucian manner. Kao-tsu respected him very highly, and publicly recognized him as his best advisor.
Li Yi-chi was a well-read Confucian who came to Kao-tsu in March/ April 207. He was known to the people of his town as a Master or teacher, sheng, and came voluntarily to call upon and advise Kao-tsu. The latter contemptuously squatted upon the k'ang with two maids washing his feet, as he received him. But Li Yi-chi was more than a pedant, even though he probably wore his literatus's robes on that occasion. He was over sixty years old, six feet tall (English measure), and fearless. He reproved Kao-tsu for his discourtesy; the latter, who seems to have been trained to respect his elders, was impressed by the old man, arose, dismissed the maids, begged Li Yi-chi's pardon, and escorted him to the seat of honor. At that time Kao-tsu could not afford to lose any worthwhile advice; Li Yi-chi delighted him with stories of earlier times, then gave him direction and assistance in capturing a neighboring city. For that Kao-tsu rewarded him; the old man was quite garrulous; he had earned the nickname of "the Mad Master," and Kao-tsu liked him. At the time, Kao-tsu was giving honorary titles to those of his followers who distinguished themselves; to Li Yi-chi he gave the title of Baronet Enlarging Our Territory. Kao-tsu respected the old man, consulted with him about important matters, and sent him as a confidential envoy on important commissions.
In April 205, when Kao-tsu came to Lo-yang, the old gentleman Tung, who was a San-lao or leader of the people, stopped him and advised him, in thoroughly Confucian terms, to declare a crusade against Hsiang Yü because the latter had caused the assassination of his superior, the Emperor Yi. This practise, that of leading a military force to chastize a wicked ruler, is typically Confucian; in the Book of History Kings T'ang and Wu are both said to have led such a crusade and to have founded their dynasties in so doing. The notion was welcomed by Kao-tsu; he found it worked, for it enabled him to lead a coalition army of 560,000 men with five kings against Hsiang Yü, and to capture his capital. After this experience, Kao-tsu would not have looked with disfavor upon a teaching that so helped him against his enemy. Confucianism now became to him a most useful and helpful philosophy.
Shu-sun T'ung had been made an Erudit by the Second Emperor, and had served Hsiang Yü as an Erudit. When, in May 205, Kao-tsu captured P'eng-ch`eng, Hsiang Yü's capital, Shu-sun T'ung, who followed the policy of making himself useful to whoever was in power, surrendered to Kao-tsu. He pleased Kao-tsu with stories of fighting and war, avoiding any typically Confucian teaching. Kao-tsu made him an Erudit and gave him a title. When Kao-tsu ascended the throne, Shu-sun T'ung arranged the ceremony.
After the court had been established, Kao-tsu found himself at a loss without any court ceremonial. He himself believed in simple direct intercourse without bothering about ceremonial. Possibly what he most disliked in Confucianism was its excessive ceremonialism. Now Kao-tsu's courtiers, who were his old camp-companions, were behaving in the court just as they did in camp. Especially when under the influence of liquor, they quarrelled, shouted, acted mannerlessly, and even pulled out their swords and hacked at the columns of the palace. Kao-tsu was very much worried, for he saw that this sort of conduct must somehow be stopped. Shu-sun T'ung offered to remedy the matter by arranging a court ceremonial. Kao-tsu saw that something of that sort was necessary, so told him to go ahead, with the admonition, "Make it easy." Shu-sun T'ung called some thirty odd literati from Lu, and with them created a court ceremonial by mixing the Confucian ceremonial with that of the Ch'in court. After more than a month of preparation, the ceremonial was performed out in the country before Kao-tsu, who approved it, and had it put into practise at the court of November 201. After the ceremony Kao-tsu was so impressed that he said, "Now, I have today known what is the greatness of being an Emperor." Thus Kao-tsu even accepted a semi-Confucian ceremonial for his court.
Lu Chia came to Kao-tsu possibly at the same time as Li Yi-chi, for we find them associated together only a few months later. He was also a highly educated man and was sent as an envoy to Ch'ao T'o, King of Nan-Yüeh, whose capital was at the present Canton. After his return in 196 or 195 B.C., he is said to have quoted the Book of Odes and the Book of History to Kao-tsu, whereat the latter scolded him and said, "I got the empire on horseback; why should I bother with the Book of Odes or the Book of History?" Lu Chia replied, "You got it on horseback, but can you rule it from horseback?" Then he proceeded to quote cases, from ancient history, of kings who had lost their thrones through their wickedness, concluding with the Ch'in dynasty, which Kao-tsu had himself overthrown. Kao-tsu blushed for shame and asked Lu Chia to write a book explaining why these rulers had lost their kingdoms. That book has come down to us. It is a piece of thoroughly Confucian exhortation, which argues that the rise and fall of dynasties depends on their virtue. It is said that when each chapter was completed, Lu Chia read it to Kao-tsu, who praised it and gave the book its title, the Hsin-Yü, "New Discourses." This event undoubtedly deepened Kao-tsu's gradual conversion to Confucianism.
As his experience of statecraft increased and as he saw deeper into the necessities of an empire, Confucianism thus looked more and more attractive. It is recorded that when in December/January 195/4 Kao-tsu passed through Lu, he sacrificed a suovetaurilia to Confucius, but this record is very likely unhistorical.
The climax of Kao-tsu's allegiance to Confucianism came when he proposed to change the succession to the throne. Chang Liang, Shu-sun T'ung, and others remonstrated with Kao-tsu against this change, but without effect. Because of Kao-tsu's lack of manners, some Confucians had refused to come to his court. Kao-tsu had by this time realized how deep was the influence of the Confucians with the people. He knew that just as he had won the throne, so his successors could only keep it by securing the respect of the people. When, in the first part of 195 B.C., Kao-tsu came actually to change the succession, and found that his Empress had succeeded in bringing to follow her son, Ying, four outstanding Confucians who had previously refused to come to Kao-tsu, he refused to change the succession, for he knew how powerful was their influence. Thus Kao-tsu finally bowed to the influence of Confucianism.
The gradual turning of Kao-tsu to Confucianism does not mean that other philosophies had no influence. Chang Liang was much more a Taoist than a Confucian. The imperial administration was taken over from the Ch'in court, and brought with it much Legalist influence. Ts'ao Ts'an was a devotee of Lao-tsu. It was only gradually that Confucianism came to have nominally exclusive sway as a philosophy in the Han court. Under Emperor Wen, there were Erudits who specialized in the non-Confucian philosophers; the only Confucian erudit at his court was Chia Yi. It was not until 141 that Emperor Wu forbade the promotion of scholars who were learned in the non-Confucian teachings. Even after that, many Legalist practises persisted. Thus the victory of Confucianism was only a gradual growth, yet it was a natural continuation of the development in Kao-tsu's own thought.
The tremendous achievement of Kao-tsu in rising from the status of a farmer boy to Emperor against the keenest competition, early attracted the attention of thoughtful persons and led them to state reasons for his victory. At a grand feast after Kao-tsu's accession, he is said to have asked his courtiers to name the reasons for his victory. Kao Ch'i and Wang Ling declared that although Kao-tsu was unmannerly and rude to people, while Hsiang Yü was kind and respectful, yet Kao-tsu rewarded his associates adequately, sharing his conquests with them, whereas Hsiang Yü was suspicious of capable people, did not give them any recognition for their victories, and kept the fruits of victory for himself and his family. Kao-tsu replied that there was an additional factor: Hsiang Yü did not trust his most capable advisor, whereas Kao-tsu succeeded because he could make use of his followers---a most tactful speech.
Kao Ch'i and Wang Ling undoubtedly hit upon a most unfortunate defect in Hsiang Yü. He seems to have been jealous of anyone else who achieved any military glory. He probably minimized other people's achievements. He had several uncles and cousins who had to be taken care of, so that he was not free to give the best territory to others. He also seems to have been suspicious of those who were not of his own clan. (Kao-tsu was also suspicious, but he trusted the men of P'ei, who were his early followers, and gave them high positions.) As a consequence, the best of Hsiang Yü's followers left him or rebelled. Han Hsin came to Kao-tsu because Hsiang Yü had rebuffed him. Ch'ing Pu, Hsiang Yü's Commander-in-chief, rebelled and came to Kao-tsu because of the treatment he had received from Hsiang Yü. At the division of the territory, the kings complained that Hsiang Yü had given himself too much of the best territory. Hsiang Yü's unfortunate temperament thus more than undid all he accomplished by his wonderful military ability.
About 22 A.D. Pan Piao, Pan Ku's father, wrote his Discussion on the Destiny of Kings (cf. ch. 100), in which he argues that Kao-tsu's rise was not due to chance, as many were saying, and enumerates five reasons for that victory: (1) his descent from Yao, (2) his unusual body and features, (3) his military success, (4) his liberality, perspicacity, benevolence, and consideration for others, and (5) his keenness in judging others and in selecting his subordinates. He adds that Kao-tsu was faithful and sincere; he made far-reaching plans and was willing to accept the advice of others; he did not hesitate, but acted promptly; and he was favored by the supernatural powers with marvellous events. Pan Piao concludes that Kao-tsu's success was due to supernatural influence. His list of reasons undoubtedly contains much insight. There have been very many other such lists, from early Han times down.
We mention here three further factors. First, Kao-tsu made the people feel that he was governing in their interests. This factor appeared in his conception of rule as ethical, not an arbitrary absolutism.
Secondly, there was probably a general fellow-feeling among the common people for this commoner who was aspiring to the supreme position. The oppression of the aristocrats, which culminated in the cruelties of the Ch'in dynasty, brought about a reaction in popular feeling, so that many common people came to prefer for their ruler a commoner to an aristocrat. Especially when the aristocrats showed their weakness as generals in competition with others, this feeling was bound to have been intensified. The actions of Hsiang Yü, the outstanding aristocrat, did not help matters. His carelessness for the people's lives became notorious. At the storming of Hsiang-ch'eng, in June 208, he massacred every living thing in the city. In July/August 207, when the surrendered army of Chang Han threatened trouble, he had the whole army massacred, said to be more than twenty thousand men. Such acts were sure to set the common people against the aristocrats. By contrast, Kao-tsu took care to be generous and mild. When, in October 208, the older generals of King Huai had to select someone to go west and attempt to capture the Ch'in capital, they chose Kao-tsu rather than Hsiang Yü, because of the reputation for destructiveness that Hsiang Yü had acquired at Hsiang-ch'eng, and because of Kao-tsu's reputation for generosity. They were afraid that the news of Hsiang Yü's approach would nerve the people of Kuan-chung to defend their country vigorously, in which case it would be impregnable. Kao-tsu acquainted these people with his mild purposes, and they made no move to support their rulers, so that the capital fell. After Kao-tsu had acquired their confidence and got them to mount their natural barriers, Hsiang Yü did not even attempt to invade Kuan-chung.
Kao-tsu's generous and kindly treatment of the people thus brought to him the fellow-feeling of the people. They realized that he was one of them. More than once the leaders of the people came to him with important advice. His lack of manners and use of churlish language towards even his most distinguished followers probably accentuated the kindly feeling of the people to him. He won because he manipulated public opinion in his favor; that feeling was so strong two centuries later that, at the downfall of his dynasty, only another Han dynasty with the same surname could gain the throne.
In the third place, Kao-tsu introduced not only new ideas, but also new blood into the government. His nobles were self-made men who fought their way to distinction. His government was organized by Hsiao Ho. The latter was a personal friend and fellow-villager of Kao-tsu, who had been promoted to be Chief Official in P'ei because of his skill in the law. He was a trained administrator, and was put in charge of Kuan-chung as Chancellor while Kao-tsu went out fighting. Hsiao Ho thus administered Kao-tsu's base and organized Kao-tsu's supplies. He furthermore enacted the fundamental laws of the Han empire and gave to the government its organization. He performed this task so well that for half a century afterwards, his successors merely followed in his footsteps. He built the imperial palaces in a grander style than Kao-tsu had conceived of, because he knew that this magnificence was necessary to impress the people. When the campaign against Hsiang Yü was over, Kao-tsu awarded to Hsiao Ho the first place in the court and gave him the title of Chancellor of State, even though he had done no fighting, for Kao-tsu realized the importance of Hsiao Ho's work. To the frugal and simple administration of government by Hsiao Ho and his assistants must be credited much of Kao-tsu's success. After Hsiao Ho, except for his immediate successor and the Empress née Lü's uncle, both of whom were not important historically, the high title of Chancellor of State was not used again, so great was the respect of the dynasty for Hsiao Ho.
Whether we shall ever be able to state all of the reasons for the success of Kao-tsu is doubtful. His own personality, the mistakes of his opponents, especially of the Ch'in dynasty and Hsiang Yü, Kao-tsu's cultivation of the people's good will, the fellow-feeling of the people for this commoner, and the ability of the new blood he introduced into the government, especially Hsiao Ho, are undoubtedly important factors.
|Published by The Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, © Copyright 2003 by Anne Kinney and the University of Virginia|