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Pan Ku, in writing these annals of Emperor Wen's reign, was very conscious of the fact that he was also writing many Treatises and Memoirs which deal with the same period. He wished to avoid undue repetition, so put much of the material dealing with this period into those Treatises and Memoirs that naturally required it. He makes cross-references to the most important of those accounts. These Annals are accordingly not a complete account of the reign, but rather the annalistic background to a much longer history, together with an account of those events that do not fit better into the Treatises or Memoirs. Thus the great raid of the Huns in 166 B.C. is barely mentioned, for a full account is given in the "Memoir on the Huns." For a reader who has an adequate knowledge about the period, such as that to be gained from the Treatises and the Memoirs, this chapter sums up the period very well, since it sets every important event in its chronological relations, even though it does not always point out the significance of each event. This chapter should accordingly be read, not as an attempt at writing a modern history of the period, but for what it was intended to be--- an account of Emperor Wen together with a mention of the important events in the reign, which account is part of a much longer history that treats elsewhere of special subjects and of the important personages mentioned therein. For a partial summary of those events and personages, the reader is referred to the notes and the Glossary.
The chief source for this chapter was chapter X of the SC, which deals similarily with Emperor Wen's reign. That chapter has not however come down to us without changes. Into it there has been interpolated the eulogy from this chapter of the HS (cf. p. 272, n. 1); other changes may also have been made. Pan Ku however had the original of that chapter. He did not follow it slavishly; some material in it has been transferred to the relevant Treatises in the HS, for example the account of the circumstances leading up to the abrogation of the law considering wives and children as accomplices to a crime (cf. 4: 5b) and to the abolition of mutilating punishments (cf. 4: 14b). In other cases, material has been added. The SC omits altogether any mention of years Ch'ien IV, V, VII, VIII, IX, X, XI, XII, and HouIII, IV, V; the HS chronicles events in each of these years. Some interesting edicts have also been added, as for instance the ones on 4: 7a, b, and on 16b, 17a. Sometimes deliberate corrections have been made in the SC account. The long discussion concerning the appointment of an heir-apparent (4: 5b-6b) is given in the SC as a conversation between the Emperor and his officials; the HS quotes it as an exchange of written memorials and edicts. We know that the imperial court kept in its files duplicates of all imperial edicts, in order to check any forged edicts; cf. Glossary, sub Tou Ying. Pan Ku had access to the imperial records and probably compared the SC versions of these imperial edicts with the copies in the court files. Thus from them he added the statement that this discussion was taken from written, not oral documents. This change thus shows his care and faithfulness to his sources.
Pan Ku probably also had available some sort of annals kept at the imperial court, which listed such events as the Emperor's travels in and out of the Palace and also portents, eclipses, drouths, earthquakes, deaths of emperors, empresses, vassal kings, lieutenant chancellors, etc. The material in the HS annals for the years omitted in the SC account can be traced to such annals and to what would be found in the imperial edicts of those years. These palace annals were probably distinct from the source from which was taken the chronological record of officials in part B of chapter 19, for this record and the rest of the HS partly duplicate, usually supplement, and occasionally contradict each other. Pan Ku's chapter on Emperor Wen is thus not a copy of the chapter in the SC, but an independent composition, which took that chapter of the SC as its principal source, copying it verbatim where it did not need correction, because that was the best means of securing an accurate record, just as the SC had previously copied its source material. Sources were not mentioned by either author, for history was not written to credit sources, but to give facts.
Emperor Wen came to the throne under exceptionally favorable circumstances, for he was chosen for the place by the most influential persons in the empire, who consequently took the responsibility for him. Hsiao-hui, Kao-tsu's heir, together with Hsiao-hui's descendants, had all died; the attempt of the Empress Dowager née Lü to continue her family's influence by enthroning spurious sons of Hsiao-hui had been frustrated by the action of Kao-tsu's immediate followers, who were her high officials. After the massacre of the Lü clan, the high officials and the leaders of the imperial clan gathered in conclave at the capital. Liu Chiao, Kao-tsu's sole surviving brother, was old and possibly ill, for he died the next year. He remained in his kingdom of Ch'u. The other leaders of the clan were all there: the wife of Liu Po, Kao-tsu's oldest brother, who was the chief priestess in the ancestral worship, the wife of Liu Chung, Kao-tsu's next oldest brother, and Kao-tsu's cousin, Liu Tse, the oldest active male member of the clan. The choice lay between Liu Hsiang, King of Ch'i, the oldest son of Kao-tsu's oldest son, and Liu Heng, King of Tai, Kao-tsu's oldest living son. The latter was chosen, because his mother's family had not the unpleasant reputation possessed by that of Liu Hsiang. Primogeniture was thus considered as merely an important, but not a necessary requirement for the succession.
Liu Heng showed the proper reluctance to accept the throne and was duly installed. He was personally a modest and unaffected young man in his twenty-second year, who had already reigned as King of Tai to the seventeenth year.
His character is perhaps best shown in his edicts, which deserve to rank among the greatest official pronouncements of all time. Pan Ku esteemed them highly, for he quoted them extensively. The edict ordering the cessation of prayers for the Emperor's personal happiness (4: 15b), that on the peace with the Huns (4: 17a, b), and the very remarkable testimentary edict (4: 19a-21a) are especially noteworthy.
Emperor Wen accepted whole-heartedly the Confucian doctrine that the ruler exists for the welfare of his subjects and put that doctrine into practise. He reduced the taxes and lightened the burdens of the people, economizing in his personal expenses and avoiding any grand displays. One later story is that he even attended court wearing straw sandals! He asked the people for criticism of his rule (in his case this request was sincerely meant) and he sought for capable commoners to assist in the administration. He ordered the various divisions of the empire to recommend their best men to the imperial court, and selected amongst them by a written examination. These recommendations and examinations seem not however to have occurred regularly, but only when there was a special imperial call. Emperor Wen stressed agriculture by his personal example in the sacred field and by his edicts, and was much worried by famine and scarcity, even going so far as to abolish the land tax on cultivated fields (soon revived by his successor). While he was thus personally a Confucian in his belief and government, he was no bigot. He established Erudits for the non-Confucian philosophies; candidates studied these philosophies as well as the Confucian teachings; Chia Yi was at first the only Confucian Erudit at his court (cf. 36: 32b). Yet as a result of Emperor Wen's personal influence, Confucianism was given such a preponderant influence that the prohibition by Emperor Wu in 141 B.C. of non-Confucian philosophies was a natural consequence.
During this reign, the Huns began making serious inroads after having been quiescant during the preceding two short reigns. Kao-tsu had had trouble with them, and had made peace with them, cementing it by sending a princess of the imperial family to be a wife of the Hun emperor, the Shan-Yü. In 177 B.C. the Huns invaded the Chinese borders and occupied Ordos. After the death of Mao-tun, the greatest Shan-Yü, which happened soon after 174 B.C., the Huns, in the winter of 167/6 B.C., made their greatest raid. Hsiao-wen's pacifistic policy of economizing seems to have left him without adequate defense or they found a lightly defended road around his defenses; led by the Shan-Yü, thousands of Hun horsemen came south through the passes in the present eastern Kansuh, down the Chien and Wei River valleys, where they burnt the Hui-chung Palace, and rode to Kan-ch'üan, in sight of Ch'ang-an. Emperor Wen immediately made strenuous efforts for defence, and the Huns left. In 162 B.C. peace was made with them, but in the winter of 159/8 they raided again. During this period there were thus begun the sporadic invasions by the Huns which were to lead to the military expeditions of Emperor Wu.
The only rebellion during this period was that of Liu Hsing-chü, King of Chi-pei, who believed himself inadequately rewarded for having previously taken the lead in eliminating the power of the Lü clan. This rebellion was quickly put down. It made Chia Yi realize the danger of vassal kingdoms, and he advised the Emperor to divide up the great fiefs in order to weaken their power. Emperor Wen rejected his advice, but in 164 B.C. he quietly began putting it into effect, dividing up two kingdoms among nine scions of their kingly families. This policy was continued, urged by Chao Ts'o, and led to the rebellion of the Seven States in the next reign. Eventually this policy so enfeebled the power of the imperial clan that Emperor Wu could at one stroke dismiss with impunity half of the marquises who were members of the imperial clan.
The superstitious practises which were to deface Emperor Wu's reign likewise began with Emperor Wen. He was doubtless a personally devout man who accepted the universal belief that the gods could be influenced by certain practises. The periodic famines natural to north China were thought to come from the anger of the gods; Emperor Wen, in his efforts to aid his people, was thus drawn into special religious practises for the cultivation of the divine favor upon his people. In 166 B.C. he increased the sacrifices. Adventurers took advantage of this religious propensity: Kung-sun Ch'en and Hsin-Yüan P'ing encouraged him to extend the imperial worship and formulated the new rites required. The latter person led the Emperor into other superstitious practises, making a yellow dragon appear, hiding and dramatically finding a jade cup inscribed, "Prolongued life to the Lord of Men," and also hiding a three-legged cauldron at Fen-yin, which, when found, would appear to be a lost cauldron of the Chou dynasty. He conducted an unsuccessful search for it; it came to light only much later, in 113 B.C., when it made a great stir. He is said to have seen the sun twice at its zenith on the same day, and as a consequence to have induced Emperor Wen to begin again the numbering of the years of his reign. Although Hsin-Yüan P'ing's deceits were discovered and he was executed in 164 B.C., the precedent had been set of an emperor favoring those who could bring special favors from the gods or spirits. Emperor Wu brought it to fruition.
Emperor Wen's reign was thus a period of beginnings: of the Confucian influence, of trouble with the Huns, of the division of fiefs, and of important imperial superstition. It was the first really long reign in the dynasty and it established many of the practises of the dynasty. It was thus natural that this Emperor should have been posthumously entitled the Great Exemplar of Emperors.
Personally Liu Heng was an admirable, though not entirely perfect character. He is generally considered to have been one of the best rulers of China. He showed genuine statesmanship. Thus he ended the desultory war and rebellion of the kingdom of Nan-Yüeh without any fighting: he found in north China the cousins of its ruler, Chao T'o, made large gifts to them and cared splendidly for the tomb of Chao T'o's parents, then, in a tactful letter, he set forth satisfactory boundaries for Nan-Yüeh and told its ruler that there could not be two emperors in the world. Chao T'o promptly changed his own title from that of Emperor to King and acknowledged himself a subject of Emperor Wen. The latter had so arranged matters that by so doing Chao T'o would gain much and lose nothing except an empty title and a tribute which was repaid by gifts from the imperial court. Thus Liu Heng strove by all means to maintain peace.
He honestly worked for the best interests of his people and set their advantage above his own. He sought for and accepted even the severest criticism. He discouraged corruption and restrained the severity of his officials, so that capital punishment became a rare thing. He ameliorated the severities of the law, abolishing mutilating punishments and other unnecessary cruelties. He established old-age pensions. Hence the country became prosperous and there were made the accumulations of wealth and population which enabled Emperor Wu to conquer the surrounding world. Emperor Wen tried to maintain an even-handed justice, even getting his mother's younger brother, Po Chao, who had been responsible for the murder of an imperial attendant, to commit suicide. Yet he does not seem to have punished his own Heir-apparent, Liu Ch'i, when the latter killed his cousin, Liu Hsien, in a drunken dispute over precedence while gambling. While Liu Heng seems to have been a morally admirable, yet slightly weak character, it is only his due that he has been extravagently admired ever since.
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|Published by The Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, © Copyright 2003 by Anne Kinney and the University of Virginia|