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The apogee of the Former Han period

The reign of Emperor Hsüan (74-48 B.C.) marks the highest point of Chinese power and civilization during the Former Han period. In government, in prosperity, in art (cf. 8: 25a), and in its power over foreign tribes, this reign constitutes the apogee of the period. Never before was the government so well-administered or so kindly disposed to the people; never before had there been such good harvests. Emperor Wu had sent out victorious military expeditions, but never before had the Huns acknowledged themselves vassals of the Chinese. After this reign, decline ensued, until the dynasty ended and there came a general collapse under Wang Mang.

In giving an account of the important events in this reign omitted from or inadequately discussed in these "Annals," it will perhaps be worth while to discuss the change in the succession to the throne, the revolt of the Ho clan, the character of Emperor Hsüan's rule, the submission of the Huns, and the ascendancy of Confucianism over its rivals.

Liu Ho(4b)'s brief reign and deposition

Emperor Hsüan was not the Heir-apparent of Emperor Chao, but was selected to be Emperor by Ho Kuang and the ministers. The actual successor to Emperor Chao was Liu Ho(4b), who was dismissed from the throne after a reign of twenty-seven days. This episode is passed over with a bare mention in the "Annals," since Emperor Hsüan did not figure in it. A full account of this as well as of other matters discussed in this introduction is to be found in the relevant "Treatises" and "Memoirs," which are abstracted in the glossary.

Emperor Wu had six sons, three of whom died before their father. Liu Chü, his Heir-apparent, was killed in the insurrection caused by the famous witchcraft and black magic case (91 B.C.). With him died all his sons. The only descendant saved alive was an infant grandson only a few months old, Liu Ping-yi (the future Emperor Hsüan), who had been born of a singer and dancer slave-girl sold into the household of Liu Chü's son. Since the babe was a grandson, he was not executed, for the Chinese law of blood-feud demanded that vengeance be taken for a parent's death only to the first generation of the dead man's descendants. Consequently, the Chinese law of inculpation similarly required the execution, in heinous crimes, of only the three sets of closest relatives (cf. glossary, sub Three sets of relatives). The courage of Ping Chi prevented this babe's death in the general executions that occurred after that insurrection. By 74 B.C., when Emperor Chao died, Liu Ping-yi had already been restored to membership in the imperial clan, from which he had at first been excluded, and was known as the Imperial Great-grandson.

Another son of Emperor Wu, Liu Hung(1a), King of Ch'i, had died in 110 B.C. without descendants. A third son, Liu Po(6), King of Ch'ang-yi, had also died before his father (89 B.C.), leaving a son, Liu Ho(4b). A fourth son of Emperor Wu, Liu Tan(4a), King of Yen, had intrigued against Emperor Chao and Ho Kuang, and had been executed (80 B.C.). A fifth son, Liu Hsü, King of Kuang-ling, was still living. The sixth and youngest son, Liu Fu-ling, had become Emperor Chao.

There were thus, at the time of Emperor Chao's death, only three eligible descendants of Emperor Wu: Liu Ping-yi, Liu Ho(4b), and Liu Hsü. Liu Tan(4a)'s three sons were then commoners, and, because of their father's crimes, were not eligible. Liu Hsü had not proved himself a suitable person for the throne. He had been far from decorous and had delighted in such things as music (dancing), wandering, and feats of strength, such as lifting weights and fighting bare-handed with bears, boars, and other wild animals. He was passed over. Twenty years later he was executed for murder.

The obvious choice for the throne was Liu Ho(4b), and he was accordingly invited to come and perform the funeral rites as the heir of Emperor Chao. Liu Ho(4b) was then in his eighteenth or nineteenth year and had already been King of Ch'ang-yi for twelve years. The manic-depressive insanity that seems to have afflicted him in later years was probably already beginning to affect him. He was expecting the message; it was sent by fire-beacons from Ch'ang-an to Ch'ang-yi, which latter place was located in the present southwestern Shantung. In a fit of enthusiasm, Liu Ho(4b) started for the imperial capital late the same afternoon, spurring as hard as he could, killing horses recklessly, traveling 135 li in the remainder of that day. Meat, intercourse with women, and joyful amusements were forbidden during the period of mourning; in his delight at being on the way to the throne, Liu Ho(4b) forgot all prudence and had his slaves secure women and meat. When, forty-two days after, he reached the capital, instead of weeping as the heir of a deceased emperor, he could not control his joy. When he came to the palace Portal, he however performed the required prostrations.

Liu Ho(4b) was now given the imperial seals and the title of Emperor. Emperor Chao's Empress (née Shang-kuan), who was a grand-daughter of Ho Kuang, was made Empress Dowager, thus becoming the adoptive mother of Liu Ho(4b). Emperor Chao died on June 5th; Liu Ho(4b) became Emperor on July 18th; Emperor Chao was buried on July 24th. An essential feature of the coronation was the presentation of the new Emperor in the ancestral Temple of Emperor Kao, the founder of the line. Liu Ho(4b), in his pursuit of enjoyment, postponed this event.

Meanwhile he gave rein to his wishes like a care-free youth. He played with the imperial seals. He gave his followers a thousand catties of gold in order that they might secure ten wives for him. He gave elaborate rewards to his boon companions. While the imperial coffin was still in the Palace Hall, he had music performed. He indulged in elaborate feasts, and did not refrain from meat, sending his followers out to buy chickens and pork when the palace officials refused to provide them for him. He committed fornication with the Palace Maids and threatened death to anyone who revealed the fact. In the twenty-seven days of his reign, he sent out messengers with credentials and edicts on 1127 missions. Officials who admonished him were warned to keep silent or were imprisoned.

Ho Kuang was in distress at this flaunting of the dynasty's customs and institutions, and asked his intimates what could be done. He was reminded of the precedent set by Yi Yin, the venerated minister of T'ang the Victorious, the founder of the Shang dynasty. Yi Yin had imprisoned to the third year, in a place near his grandfather's tomb, T'ai-chia, an unworthy grandson and successor of T'ang, until T'ai-chia had repented of his wild ways. Thereupon Yi Yin had handed the rule back to T'ai-chia. This account was part of the Confucian tradition (it is found in Mencius V, i, vi, 5, also in the SC [Mh I, 189]), and was consequently part of the state constitution. Ho Kuang summoned the officials and members of his party to a conclave and explained the situation to them. They were astounded at the proposal to dethrone the Emperor, and did not dare to say anything, until T'ien Yen-nien arose, pulled out his sword, and asked for permission to kill anyone who dissented. The officials thereupon agreed unanimously.

The Empress Dowager, Ho Kuang's grand-daughter, was three or four years younger than Liu Ho(4b), but was technically his mother, so that she could command Liu Ho(4b). To lure Liu Ho(4b) out of the imperial quarters, she went to the Emperor's palace. Liu Ho(4b) accordingly came to pay his court to her; when he returned to his apartments, he alone was allowed to enter the doors; the eunuchs held the doors and kept Liu Ho(4b)'s followers out. These followers were arrested and imprisoned. Liu Ho(4b) was summoned to the Empress Dowager. She received him in full regalia (probably in the throne room), seated in the military tent, with several hundred attendants bearing arms. The courtiers ascended into the audience hall according to their proper order and Liu Ho(4b) was commanded to prostrate himself and hear the proceedings. A Master of Writing thereupon read a memorial signed by Ho Kuang and all the important officials, which asserted that Liu Ho(4b) had abandoned the rules of proper conduct and moral principles, and enumerated his misdeeds one by one. When the reading reached the point where Liu Ho(4b) was charged with fornication, the Empress Dowager said, "Stop. Could any subject or son of mine act in so disorderly a manner as this?"

Liu Ho(4b) left his mat and prostrated himself while the Master of Writing continued reading the memorial. It ended by saying that Liu Ho(4b) had not yet presented himself in the Temple of Emperor Kao to receive the imperial mandate and was not fit to continue the imperial line nor to uphold the sacrifices in the imperial ancestral temples, so that he should be dismissed. It begged that the proper officials should be instructed to give information of that fact in the Temple of Emperor Kao. The Empress Dowager assented to this memorial and Ho Kuang ordered Liu Ho(4b) to arise, bow and accept the edict. Liu Ho(4b) protested, whereupon Ho Kuang held Liu Ho(4b)'s hands and took away from him his imperial seals, the insignia of imperial authority. These he presented to the Empress Dowager, and led Liu Ho(4b) down, out of the palace Hall, out of the palace gate, and to the residence at the imperial capital for the kings of Ch'ang-yi. Liu Ho(4b) was then sent back to Ch'ang-yi, where he was given a stipend; his wealth was distributed among his daughters and sisters and he was left without any title. Ten years later, when he had proved to be harmless, he was made a marquis.

The selection of Emperor Hsuan

Ho Kuang and the ministers thereupon discussed the succession to the throne. Liu Hsü had already been passed over and the sons of Liu Tan(4a) could not be considered. Hence the most closely related member of the imperial clan was Liu Ping-yi, the Imperial Great-grandson. He was well spoken of and was then in his eighteenth year. Emperor Wu had ordered him to be taken care of in the imperial palace, and faithful eunuchs had used their private funds to have him given a good Confucian education and to get him properly married. Ho Kuang memorialized the Empress Dowager that this youth would be a fit person to be the successor of Emperor Chao. The proper officials then went to the youth's residence, bathed and dressed him, and took him to the yamen of the Superintendent of the Imperial House, where he purified himself by fasting. Liu Ho(4b) was dismissed on Aug. 14; on Sept. 10, Liu Ping-yi presented himself to the Empress Dowager, who first ennobled him, making a marquis, after which Ho Kuang, acting upon her direction, invested him with the imperial seals and presented him to the imperial ancestors in the Temple of Emperor Kao.

Thus the Confucian constitution of the state showed itself capable of dismissing an unworthy emperor after he had been (partly) enthroned, and of selecting another imperial scion to take his place, without creating any disturbance in the state. The particular device used was the principle of authority in the family: that a filial son owes obedience to his parents, hence the mother of the family could even dismiss from the throne an unworthy imperial son. (The Han emperors, after the first one, were all called hsiao, "filial," in their posthumous names.) The success of such a change depended upon the loyalty of the minister who made the change and his reputation in the court.

The dangerous intrigues and downfall of the Ho clan

The revolt of the Ho clan is probably the most important single internal disturbance during this reign. When Emperor Hsüan was enthroned, Ho Kuang modestly resigned; Emperor Hsüan retained this minister in power, and he was the actual ruler until his death in 68 B.C. Emperor Hsüan paid no attention to the government until after Ho Kuang's death. In recompense for his services, Emperor Hsüan granted Ho Kuang a laudatory edict, ranked him the same as Hsiao Ho, Emperor Kao's Chancellor of State, who had founded the dynastic institutions, and gave his heirs the right to be exempt from the usual inheritance tax, by which the estate of a noble was decreased one-fifth each time it was transmitted from one generation to another. Ho Kuang's son, Ho Yü, was made General of the Right; Ho Kuang's grand-nephew, Ho Shan, was made Intendant of Affairs of the Masters of Writing; Ho Kuang's grand-daughter was the Empress Dowager née Shang-kuan; his daughter was the Empress nee Ho; his sons-in-law, grand-nephews, and other relatives were all given high positions.

Thus the Ho clan seemed to be in firm control of the court. But the train of events that was to bring about this clan's speedy downfall and destruction had already begun.

Ho Kuang's first wife had no sons; his son, Yü, was born of a slave-girl, Hsien. After his first wife had died, Ho Kuang had accordingly made Hsien his wife. Her unscrupulous ambition destroyed his house.

When Emperor Hsüan had been a commoner, with the name Liu Ping-yi, he was at first not even allowed to be enregistered as a member of the imperial house; consequently his friends found difficulty in securing a wife for him. The eunuch Superintendent of the Lateral Courts (the imperial harem) had been a follower of Heir-apparent Li, Liu Ping-yi's grandfather. One of the Superintendent's subordinate eunuchs, Hsü Kuang-han, had a daughter, P'ing-chün, who was in her fourteenth or fifteenth year. She had been betrothed to a boy who had died and so it would be difficult to find a husband for her. The Superintendent persuaded her father to marry her to Liu Ping-yi, which was done in 75 B.C. Hsü Kuang-han had been a Gentleman to Emperor Wu, but through sheer stupidity had been impeached for robbery when accompanying the Emperor, a capital crime; his punishment had been commuted to castration, and he had finally become Inspector of Fields in the Drying House, the prison in the harem of the imperial palace, where was located the palace laundry. Several months before Liu Ho(4b)'s deposition, P'ing-chün gave birth to a boy, who later became Emperor Yüan.

After Liu Ping-yi became Emperor, P'ing-chün was made a Favorite Beauty (the highest rank of imperial concubines). Ho Kuang had a young daughter, and the officials began talking of appointing an Empress, thinking naturally of this daughter. But Emperor Hsüan cared for P'ing-chün and knew the Confucian principle that a wife married in poverty must not be cast off in success, so told his officials that they should seek even for the swords he had used before he had been ennobled. They took the hint, and suggested P'ing-chün as Empress. She was appointed in 74 B.C.

Ho Kuang's wife, Ho Hsien, was now at her wits' end, for she was ambitious to make her daughter the Empress. The next year, the Empress nee Hsü was with child and fell ill. One of the imperial women physicians was a favorite with the Ho family and came to ask Ho Hsien for a favor in behalf of her husband, who was a guard in the palace harem. Ho Hsien saw her opportunity, and persuaded this woman to poison the Empress. Medicines given to imperial personages were always tested beforehand; this woman watched her opportunity and mixed the extract from some poisonous shells with the great pill of the Grand Physician. Before the Empress died in great agony (71 B.C.), she asserted she had been poisoned. Ho Hsien did not dare to reward the woman physician highly; the imperial physicians were all arrested and questioned; Ho Hsien had to tell her husband what she had done. He said nothing, but managed to have the woman physician released. Then Ho Hsien prepared her daughter's marriage garments and sent her to the imperial palace. A year after the Empress née Hsü's death, Ho Hsien's daughter became Empress. She secured the sole affection of the Emperor.

Emperor Hsüan would not, however, allow affection for a new wife to prevent him from doing his duty to the wife of his poverty. A year after Ho Kuang died, the Emperor made Liu Shih, the son of his first wife, his Heir-apparent, and made his first wife's father, Hsü Kuang-han, a marquis. Ho Kuang had previously opposed such an enfeoffment, saying that it was not proper for a criminal to be made a noble. Ho Hsien was now extremely angry, and instructed her daughter to poison the Heir-apparent. The sudden death of the Empress née Hsü had put people on their guard, and the child's nurse tasted all food given the boy, even when it was offered by the new Empress, so that the latter could not find any opportunity to poison the boy, even though she summoned the boy several times and kept poison by her.

After the death of Ho Kuang in 68 B.C., the Grandee Secretary Wei Hsiang and others pointed out to Emperor Hsüan the danger of allowing one clan to monopolize the high positions in the court. The power of Ho Kuang's grand-nephew, Ho Shan, was accordingly curtailed drastically by enacting that memorials might be sealed before presentation and no duplicate need be presented. Thus the Intendant of Affairs of the Masters of Writing no longer knew beforehand what was being said to the throne and could not completely control the government business. Wei Hsiang had long private talks with the Emperor. About this time Emperor Hsüan heard the truth regarding the assassination of his first Empress. He did not attempt to punish the Ho clan immediately, for that clan and its relatives controlled the army. The Empress's assassination was accordingly not investigated any further. Instead of that, the members of the Ho faction were gradually displaced and their power taken away. The generals in that faction were one by one given civil posts or sent out into the provinces to be Grand Administrators of distant commanderies. Their positions were given to members of the Shih or Hsü clans, to whom belonged the maternal grandfather and the fatherin-law of the Emperor. Wei Hsiang was made Lieutenant Chancellor in place of the incompetent Confucian scholar who had been appointed through Ho Kuang's influence. Ho Yü was promoted to be Commanderin-chief, but was denied the right to wear the regular hat of a commanderin-chief or to carry the commander-in-chief's seal (whereby orders were authenticated), and thus his troops were taken out of his control.

When the Ho clan thus saw their power shorn away, they wept and blamed themselves. At last Ho Hsien told them about the poisoning of the Empress née Hsü. They then saw that there was no hope for their safety except by some desperate action. So they plotted to have the Empress Dowager hold a feast to which Wei Hsiang and Hsü Kuang-han were to be invited, at which the Empress Dowager was to issue an edict to behead these two enemies of the Ho faction, dethrone Emperor Hsüan, and make Ho Yü the Emperor. A messenger bearing news of this plot was intercepted by the imperial officials, and the palace of the unsuspecting Empress Dowager was carefully guarded, to prevent word of the plot being carried to her. At the same time, an imperial edict commanded that there should be no more arrests, thereby confounding the Ho faction. Their plot could not be carried out, because persons essential to the plot were moved to positions away from the capital. Ho Shan and his second cousin, Ho Yün, were dismissed from their positions for disrespectful lack of attention to their duties. Then Ho Shan was arrested and sentenced for having written secret letters. Ho Hsien offered to pay a thousand head of horses and to turn over to the government her residence west of Ch'ang-an, in order to ransom Ho Shan, but to no avail. He and Ho Yün then committed suicide. Thereupon Ho Hsien, Ho Yü, and the other conspirators were arrested and the whole Ho faction was exterminated. Altogether several thousand families were executed and destroyed as accomplices; the only ones saved alive were the two Empresses. The Empress Dowager seems to have known nothing about the plot. The Empress nee Ho was dismissed and sent to a palace in Shang-lin Park, outside the capital; eleven years later she was moved to a still meaner place, whereupon she committed suicide. Thus the Ho clan, from having held the dominating power in the government, fell into utter ruin and annihilation within two years after the death of Ho Kuang. A more complete upset would hardly be imagined. The skill with which power was gradually taken away from this faction, its suspicions allayed by making no attempt to unearth evidence against them, while they were yet pursued relentlessly, is worthy of note. Rarely has such great power been so successfully withdrawn.

The kindly and generous rule of Emperor Hsüan

Emperor Hsüan did not himself take over the rule until after the death of Ho Kuang. As a youth he had been a commoner and had come to know, by personal experience, how the government affected the common people. He consequently had an infinitely better conception of the nature of a desirable government than could have been secured by a youth who had grown up in an imperial or a kingly palace, shielded from contacts with a rough world. Emperor Wu had encouraged a severe government, with the result that tyranny had come to be looked upon as a sign of an official's ability. Ho Kuang had continued Emperor Wu's practises. Emperor Hsüan had himself seen the sufferings of the people, and set about to make the administration kindly disposed to the people. He rewarded those officials who were known to be kindly, and degraded those who were harsh. Huang Pa, the Assistant Grand Administrator of Ho-nan Commandery, had become known for generosity and fairness in deciding law-cases; Emperor Hsüan had heard of this fact before he came to the throne, and consequently gave Huang Pa a high position in the office of the Commandant of Justice. Thus a beginning was made in doing away with harshness in government.

The inevitable result was that officials took advantage of the Emperor. Wang Ch'eng, who was Chancellor in the kingdom of Chiao-tung, sent in a false report in which he magnified the benefits he had conferred upon the people; Emperor Hsüan honored him with a noble title and increased his salary. Before Wang Ch'eng could be summoned to the capital to receive his rewards, he died. Then Emperor Hsüan discovered his deceit. The Emperor, however, continued the practise of rewarding kindly officials, permitting some vulgar officials to secure an empty fame for the sake of encouraging kindliness among the other officials.

During the first part of Emperor Hsüan's reign, Ho Kuang himself controlled the government and successively appointed as Lieutenant Chancellor (the titular head of the government) two aged and incompetent Confucian scholars who were famous for their learning and who had been Emperor Chao's teachers. Both died in office. When Emperor Hsüan ruled in person, his Lieutenant Chancellors were all Confucians, who had each made a special study of some Confucian classic, but they were not primarily scholars. All (except the last one) died in office; Emperor Hsüan did not execute his officials as Emperor Wu had done. The first Lieutenant Chancellor, Wei Hsiang, was stern and severe; he had previously been made Grandee Secretary by Ho Kuang, which position was regularly the stepping-stone to the position of Lieutenant Chancellor. Wei Hsiang advised Emperor Hsüan against the Ho clan. When Ho Hsien's crimes became known, the government needed a stern and severe hand, and so Emperor Hsüan dismissed the scholar who was Lieutenant Chancellor, giving this office to Wei Hsiang. For the next Grandee Secretary, Emperor Hsüan selected a very different sort of person, Ping Chi, a protégé of Ho Kuang who was good-natured and liberal, and who sought no rewards for any of his own good deeds. If an official committed a crime, Ping Chi would conceal the matter and suggest to the official that he had better resign than be punished. When he succeeded to the position of Lieutenant Chancellor, he inaugurated the custom of not turning that office into a court for trying minor officials. He was followed by Huang Pa, who did not show the ability as Lieutenant Chancellor that he had shown as a commandery administrator. Emperor Hsüan's last Lieutenant Chancellor was Yü Ting-kuo, a man who was kindly to widows and, in doubtful cases, gave the accused the benefit of the doubt. Emperor Hsüan was thus more successful in securing capable and good Lieutenant Chancellors than any other emperor had been since Emperor Kao.

Emperor Hsüan took a personal interest in legal cases. All cases of capital punishment had to be memorialized to the Emperor and his consent secured for the execution. Most of the information in the HS concerning various persons and even concerning certain conversations undoubtedly comes from the statements and testimony found in such memorials, which, because they had been approved by the emperor, became imperial edicts and were preserved in the imperial archives. Few emperors had devoted much time to reviewing law-cases; after Emperor Hsüan noticed the hardships inflicted upon the people by legal means, he spent a great deal of time in the yamen to which important legal decisions were sent for imperial approval. He reformed legal procedure in various ways. He established special judges to whom difficult cases could be referred (8: 9b) and who would be competent to judge such cases, so that it would not be necessary to execute a judge for having made a wrong decision, as had been done in the case of Hsü Jen and Wang P'ing (cf. Glossary sub Tu Yen-ninea). Emperor Hsüan inaugurated the practise that a son, grandson, or wife was not to be punished for concealing his or her parents', grandparents', or husband's crimes. Parents, grandparents, and husbands who shielded their sons, grandsons, or wives, were not however to be thus exempted, but were to be given special imperial consideration (8: 9b). He had special investigations made concerning persons who died in prison (8: 11a). He exempted the aged from punishment except for the most serious crimes (8: 15a). He continued the practise of sending out messengers to search for and report unjust trials (8: 20b).

In his treatment of his people, Emperor Hsüan was kindly and generous. He rewarded capable officials and made large grants of money to the sons of those capable officials who died poor (8: 15b, 17a). Persons in mourning for their parents were exempted from required service (8: 9b) and festivities were allowed at marriages (8: 19a). The salaries of the lowest officials were increased by half, in order that they should not need to oppress the people (8: 17b) and the practise was abolished that imperial messengers might exact their necessities from the people instead of securing them from the government (8: 24a). Various economies were effected: in time of drought the imperial table was reduced and officials were made to take a temporary reduction in salaries (8: 6b). Military garrisons were reduced. Useless palaces and lodges were not repaired. An unnecessary commandery was abolished (8: 9a, b). Taxes were remitted in time of drought or calamity (8: 6a, 7a, 13a) and the poll-money and poll-tax were reduced (8: 20a, 21b). Government land was loaned to the poor (8: 8b, 9a); government reservoirs and preserves were opened to cultivation (8: 9a). The price of salt (a government monopoly) was lowered (8: 11a). These reductions in government levies were not only made possible by economies; there was also such a succession of good harvests that in 62 B.C. the price of grain dropped to five cash per picul (probably one-eighth of its normal price).

It is not surprising that, as a consequence of these benefits, the people should have seen many portents from Heaven. Phoenixes, supernatural birds, sweet dew, dragons, and other marvels appeared. Upon each such report, Emperor Hsüan distributed favors---amnesties, noble ranks, oxen and wine, silk. It is consequently natural that reports of of portents should have been frequent. The people, who credited even the good weather to the beneficent government, doubtless considered Emperor Hsüan worthy of all these portents and more. He was the best ruler in the whole Former Han period.

The submission of the Huns

In his relations with non-Chinese peoples, Emperor Hsüan was especially fortunate, for a dispute over the succession to the Hun throne induced one of its claimants to come to the Chinese court and acknowledge Chinese overlordship; Chinese assistance then enabled this claimant to establish himself firmly on the Hun throne and to drive his rival far away. A Chinese expedition finally ended this rival's career.

The Huns (Hsiung-nu) were a race of nomads, occupying the present inner and outer Mongolia, who were in the habit of making annual raids upon the settled Chinese to the south when winter gave them respite from the care of their flocks and herds. Pelliot (La haute Asie, p. 6) remarks that the Hsiung-nu were identical with the Huns of the great European invasions. In their raids, these Huns not only took Chinese animals and food, but also captives to be sold as slaves. Capture for the slave-trade was probably the most profitable feature of these raids. To protect themselves, the Chinese built the Great Wall, and organized local militia for its defense. This system proved effective against small bands of raiders. Following the example of the Ch'in First Emperor, a Hun of the Lüan-ti clan, with the given name Mao-tun or Moduk, however united the Hun tribes and established himself as their emperor or Shan-Yü (the last word of a phrase meaning, "Great Son of Heaven.") Thereafter it was possible for large bands of Huns to gather and break through the Great Wall. Emperor Kao was almost captured in a campaign to drive Lüan-ti Mao-tun out of Chinese territory. Defeated Chinese rebels regularly fled to the Huns and were welcomed by them, bringing with them Chinese mechanical and military skill. The Empress of Emperor Kao made peace and friendship with the Huns, sending them a girl of the imperial clan to be a wife of the Shan-Yü.

This arrangement did not, however, permanently stop the Hun raids. In the time of Emperor Wen, the Huns raided almost within sight of Ch'ang-an. Emperor Ching adopted the policy of encouraging Hun dissensions by giving high noble rank to noble Hun rebels who surrendered to the Chinese. Irritated by the constant Hun raids, Emperor Wu had sent army after army deep into Hun territory, driving them out of inner Mongolia and defeating them severely in outer Mongolia. At one time the Shan-Yü was actually surrounded by an overwhelming Chinese force, but he succeeded in slipping away. The Chinese emperors followed the policy of making large and valuable grants to barbarian princes who came to pay homage; worn out by Emperor Wu's sledgehammer blows and attracted by the prospect of Chinese gifts, in the time of Emperor Chao, the Shan-Yü thought of coming to the Chinese court, in order to be allowed to inhabit inner Mongolia. His envoy, unfortunately, became ill and died in Ch'ang-an; hence suspicion and pride kept the Shan-Yü from taking any further steps and led him to continue the Hun raids. In 71, at the appeal of the Wu-sun, an Aryan tribe inhabiting the present Ili valley, Emperor Hsüan sent five armies deep into Hun territory, but the Huns had withdrawn and could not be found. The Wu-sun, however, achieved a signal victory over the Huns, for which Emperor Hsüan rewarded the Chinese Colonel, Ch'ang Hui, who had been sent to give them moral support. Thus the Chinese and Huns continued to oppose each other.

In 60 B.C., Shan-Yü Hsü-lu-ch'üan-chü died. The succession to the Hun throne was not fixed; the Hun kings were summoned to select his successor, but, before they arrived, a Yen-chih or Hun empress seated the deceased Shan-Yü's younger brother upon the vacant throne. He proved tyrannical and cruel, dismissing the sons and brothers of his predecessor, and offending some of his nobles. They consequently set up a son of his predecessor as Shan-Yü Hu-han-hsieh, and defeated the other Shan-Yü, who then committed suicide. Other claimants for the throne now appeared, until in 57 B.C. there were five Shan-Yü. Civil war eliminated all but Shan-Yü Hu-han-hsieh, whereupon three more claimants appeared, including Shan-Yü Chih-chih, who was an elder brother, probably a half-brother of Shan-Yü Hu-han-hsieh. Shan-Yü Chih-chih moreover succeeded in defeating Shan-Yü Hu-han-hsieh and occupied the region of the Hun capital near the present Urga. Shan-Yü Hu-han-hsieh now appealed to the Chinese for aid and sent his son to the Chinese court to be an attendant upon the Emperor. Shan-Yü Chih-chih countered by similarly sending one of his sons to the Chinese court. Shan-Yü Hu-hanhsieh had now to find a more effective way of securing Chinese aid, so in 52 B.C., he requested permission to come in person to the grand court at the first of the Chinese year, bring tribute, and pay homage to the Son of Heaven.

Such an event had never happened before, that the emperor of a powerful neighboring state should come to pay homage to a Chinese emperor. It was hence necessary to determine how the Shan-Yü should be treated and what rites should be used. The court officials urged that he be treated as a vassal king and be ranked below the Chinese vassal kings. But Hsiao Wang-chih, an independent-minded and learned Confucian, advised that the Shan-Yü should be treated as a guest, i.e., an equal of the Emperor, since it would be better to attach the barbarians by kindness and generosity than to alienate them by harshness and humbling them. Since they were not settled inhabitants, they could not be apprehended and subjugated. Therefore it would be better to influence them by benevolence and righteousness, so that they would be led to be trustful and yielding. Emperor Hsüan adopted this wise advice, and had Shan-Yü Hu-han-hsieh treated as a guest. He was given an imperial seal like that of the Chinese emperor (24 A: 21a). It was arranged that the Shan-Yü's retinue should be given a view of the imperial cortege, and he was entertained at a great banquet during which he was shown the imperial treasures. He was given rich presents and sent back after a month or so.

Patriotic and proud Huns had opposed Shan-Yü Hu-han-hsieh's personal submission to the Chinese, saying that it made them the laughing-stock of the world. On Shan-Yü Hu-han-hsieh's return, the Chinese supplied him with a large escort of Chinese cavalry, and allowed him to establish himself in inner Mongolia and to take refuge in the Chinese fortifications beyond the border. He was given large quantities of grain. The second year after, Shan-Yü Hu-han-hsieh again came to the Chinese court and received even greater presents. Shan-Yü Chih-chih had expected that when Shan-Yü Hu-han-hsieh once went to the Chinese court, he would not be able to return, but now he had not only returned but was greatly enriched by Chinese presents and grain, so that the Huns flocked to him. As a consequence, Shan-Yü Chih-chih gave up all hope of being able to conquer his rival and moved to the west to carve himself out a kingdom there. In 36 B.C., during the reign of Emperor Yüan, a notable Chinese expedition pursued and beheaded him. Thus Chinese support proved able to determine the succession to the Hun throne, and the Huns at last became vassals of the Chinese.

The Chinese subjugation of the Huns by diplomacy and gifts, after military conquest had failed to subjugate them, is quite typical of the best Chinese foreign policy. Against settled towns, such as those in the Tarim basin, military attacks could be permanently successful; but against a nomadic people, who could move out of reach when an expedition threatened them and could return to their steppes to attack the settled Chinese at the opportune moment, massed military attacks could have little permanent effect. Hence diplomacy and material assistance offered the best method of dealing with the Huns.

The nature of Chinese external vassalage

Ancient Chinese vassalage did not mean the same as it did in European medieval practise. The Chinese emperor asserted he was the Son of Heaven, and consequently the rightful overlord of all earthly rulers. His territory ideally comprised the whole earth, "all within the four seas." There grew up, however, a distinction between China proper and foreign lands. The boundary between these two regions was marked, at the north, by the Chinese fortifications built to keep out barbarian raids, which had been called, by the Ch'in dynasty, the Great Wall (ch'ang-ch'eng), and in Han times, the Barrier (sai). Within China proper there was sometimes also made a distinction between the central states (chung-kuo 中國) and the border commanderies---at times the central states were asked to provide the court with literary men and administrators, while the border commanderies provided fighting men and generals. Outside Chinese territory, the demands made upon vassal states depended upon their distance from China as well as their size and importance. This distinction was recognized in Chinese theory by the conception of the various domains (fu). The imperial domain (tien-fu) was theoretically surrounded successively by the feudal domain (hou-fu), the tranquillizing domain (sui-fu), the domain of restraint (yao-fu), and the wild domain (huang-fu). This arrangement is to be found in the "Tribute of Yü" (Book of History, III, i, ii, iv; Legge, pp. 142-151), where different services are required of the vassal states in different domains. In Han times, little more than a purely literary use was made, however, of these "domains."

In practise, the Chinese court secured from surrounding countries whatever homage it could conveniently get. Vassalage always meant that:

(1) The vassal ruler must accept and use as a badge of office a seal furnished him by the Chinese emperor.

(2) The vassal must appear at the Chinese court at the great yearly reception on New Year's day, either in person or through an envoy, and bring tribute, in return for which he received gifts from the Chinese emperor (distant states were allowed to appear less often, but must come at least once each reign). For the entertainment of these missions, there was built at the imperial capital a Lodge for Barbarian Princes, just as there were Lodges for the various feudal kingdoms and commanderies.

(3) Vassal rulers each sent a son to be reared at the Chinese court at the expense of the Chinese emperor. Such a son was held by the Chinese as a hostage and was indoctrinated with the might and civilization of the Chinese.

(4) Vassal rulers were required to keep the peace, in return for which, such a ruler might actually be given a regular subvention from the Chinese. The latter was the case with Shan-Yü Hu-han-hsieh; the chief purpose of the unusual treatment given him was to induce him to prevent the continual border forays that had been made into Chinese territory by the Huns. At the court of 51 B.C., besides other things, Shan-Yü Hu-hanhsieh was given 15 horses, 20 catties of actual gold, 200,000 cash, 77 suits of clothes, 8000 bolts of cloth, and 6000 catties of silk floss. After his return, he was at various times also sent 34,000 hu of grain. Since he actually stopped the border forays, the payments made him were less than the losses previously suffered by the Chinese in the Hun raids.

(5) In the rare cases when a military expedition was necessary, each vassal ruler was required, upon demand, to contribute auxiliary troops, together with food and forage for the expedition. A set of credentials (cf. HFHD I, 245, n. 2) were each divided in two lengthwise, and the ruler was given the left half. The right half was retained in the imperial capital and was, when necessary, given to an imperial envoy, who accordingly had the right to command the vassal ruler. The genuineness of an envoy was tested by matching the two halves of the credential. Hence an "envoy with credentials" not only bore messages, but also wielded the imperial authority for his special mission. Regular officials, such as the Protector General of the Western Frontier Regions, had to secure the imperial consent before calling out troops. Ch'en T'ang's expedition was composed mostly of auxiliaries from the states in the Western Frontier Regions, with a core of Chinese trained troops.

(6) With regard to their internal affairs, the foreign vassal states were usually left alone. Distances were so great and travel so slow that it was not usually worth while to interfere in the internal affairs of vassal states. As long as they did not bother the Chinese, they were allowed to go their own way. At the installation of a new king, an imperial envoy usually played an important part, although the succession to the vassal throne was not often interfered with by the Chinese. Imperial envoys were constantly sent out to vassal states, to keep the Chinese court informed of happenings in distant countries, to gage the loyalty of vassal states, to maintain the semblance of Chinese overlordship, and to carry on trade. Envoys were also sometimes sent to states outside of the Chinese orbit, bearing gold, silks, etc., in order to induce those states to declare themselves Chinese vassals. Since the annual tribute from these states was repaid by imperial gifts worth more to these people than what they sent, it was really to their own interests to submit. A Chinese military officer with his men might sometimes be quartered at the capital of a troublesome state, for the purpose of assuring the free passage of caravans and the maintenance of peace and Chinese dominance in the internal affairs of that state. Occasionally, a troublesome ruler might be dethroned and executed, whereupon a son more favorable to the Chinese was enthroned in his place (cf. Glossary, sub Fu Chieh-tzu).

There were thus various degrees of subservience among foreign vassal states. Tribute missions easily became actual trading expeditions. Since vassal rulers were benefited by paying tribute, it became a deeper mark of homage for such a ruler to attend the Chinese court in person--- the various Hun Shan-Yü had been sending envoys, tribute, and sons as hostages before Shan-Yü Hu-han-hsieh came to court in person. The Hun people evidently considered the former actions quite in harmony with actual independence, so that it was necessary for a Shan-Yü to bow before the Chinese emperor in person before the Huns seemed to to have recognized that their independence had been given up. Thus vassalage in China was different in spirit and in letter from that in Europe.

As a special favor, Chinese imperial ladies were in rare cases granted to rulers of foreign states to be their wives. At first girls of the imperial clan (sometimes the daughter of a dismissed king) were thus sent; later, when ladies of the imperial clan refused to leave China, ladies of the imperial harem who had not seen the emperor, such as the famous Wang Ch'iang, were sent. Thus foreign princes were attached to the Chinese by marriage. The granting of an imperial lady for the harem of a foreign ruler must, however, be considered a matter of diplomacy rather than one of vassalage, for this practice began before foreign states admitted any vassalage. Thus Emperor Kao sent a girl of the imperial clan (at first he had planned to send his own daughter) to the Hun Shan-Yü Mao-tun's harem. The granting of an imperial lady was considered to be so signal an act of imperial favor, that it was extended only in rare cases, chiefly to the Huns and the Wu-sun (the latter were traditional Chinese allies against the Huns). When such alliance by marriage had been made, there naturally ensued intrigues to have the sons by such Chinese women elevated to the foreign thrones, in order to extend Chinese influence. Among the Huns, these attempts were usually unsuccessful; the Wu-sun kings, however, became in this manner partly Chinese. Thus there was opened the possibility for some barbarian invaders of China during the early middle ages to assert that their ruler was the legitimate heir to the Chinese imperial throne, since he was descended from a Chinese imperial house whom the Chinese had dethroned.

The victory of Confucianism

The reign of Emperor Hsüan was the time when the actual victory of Confucianism over its rivals occurred, although that victory was not completed until the reign of Emperor Yüan. Emperor Kao had merely been favorably inclined to Confucianism; Emperor Wen had been influenced greatly, but was also interested in other schools, especially the Legalist attempt to rectify penal terminology. He had hence kept both Confucian and non-Confucian Erudits at his court. Emperor Wu had done away with non-Confucian Erudits, and had established the Imperial University, whereby the civil service came to be filled with Confucians and the children of good families were taught by Confucians. Emperor Wu had, however, been greatly influenced by Legalism, Taoism, and other non-Confucian philosophies.

Emperor Hsüan's own sincere, but not quite whole-hearted, Confucianism was undoubtedly occasioned by the circumstance that as a child he had been cared for by some of the lower officials in the government service who thought affectionately of his grandfather, and who consequently gave him a good Confucian education, including a careful study of the Analects, the Classic of Filial Piety, and the Book of Odes. The first two of these books then probably constituted the minimum curriculum for a well-educated Confucian. Emperor Chao had also studied these books, together with the Book of History (7: 4b). Emperor Hsüan's first edict in the first full year of his reign mentions the Book of Odes. Thereafter he continued to choose Confucians as his officials and advisors. He revived the study of the Ku-liang Commentary on the Spring and Autumn. When calamities occurred, as at the earthquakes of 70 and 67 B.C., he sent for Confucians to advise him what could be done.

The study of the Ku-liang Commentary, which had been the favorite of Emperor Hsüan's grandfather, brought attention to the differences between it and the then authoritative Kung-yang Commentary (the Tso-chuan was not yet popular or studied by important scholars), and then to the differences between the various other classics. Emperor Hsüan summoned to the capital the outstanding authorities on all the Confucian classics to discuss these matters in the imperial presence. At the Shih-ch'ü Pavilion in the imperial palace, these discussions were carried on for two years (cf. App. II), under the presidency of Hsiao Wang-chih, with Emperor Hsüan acting as final arbiter to decide matters on which agreement could not otherwise be reached. The results of these discussions were then memorialized to the throne and published, thus fixing the official interpretation of the classics. Other interpretations were not proscribed; they are also listed among the books in the imperial library, but the official interpretation was doubtless taught in the Imperial University and learned by candidates for all official positions, for use in replies to the imperial examinations. The candidates' replies were graded by good Confucians, with the result that this official interpretation monopolized men's minds in the same manner that Chu Hsi's interpretation of the classics became dominant in recent centuries. At the same time, the number of the Erudits and their Disciples, who were the teachers in the Imperial University, was doubled.

In spite of Emperor Hsüan's personal reliance upon Confucianism, he never accepted it exclusively or blindly in all respects, as did his successors. He was a practical man who had lived among the common people before he came to the throne, and knew the danger of idealistic impracticality inherent in the interpretations made by Confucian scholars. Hence he took as his standard not only Confucian interpretations of the classics but also the conduct of practical statesmen in Spring and Autumn times. In dealing with the Huns, he was quite ready to adopt "benevolence and righteousness" as the method for treating the Shan-Yü, but he was far from relying upon moral suasion in all cases, as Confucian idealists urged. In addition to Confucianism, he was interested in penological terminology as developed by the school of names and circumstances. He said that the Han practices accorded only in part with the Confucian models; these practises were also taken from the practises of the Lords Protector in Chou times (considered to be anti-Confucian), who had adapted themselves to circumstances, rather than following rigidly Confucian principles (9: 1b). Although all his Lieutenant Chancellors were highly educated Confucians, they were at the same time primarily experienced officials, and were chosen by him with reference to their success as officials. Emperor Hsüan intended at one time to make the great Confucian authority, Hsiao Wang-chih, his Lieutenant Chancellor, but the conduct of the latter as Grandee Secretary showed that he was not capable of holding the highest office, so he was dismissed. Thus Emperor Hsüan was a sincere and convinced Confucian, but he was too wise and too practical to accept everything the Confucian pedants said. While Emperor Wu paved the way for the victory of Confucianism by putting it in control of the curriculum through which officials entered the civil service, that victory did not become complete until the time of Emperor Hsüan's successor, Emperor Yüan (49-33 B.C.).

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IATHPublished by The Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, © Copyright 2003 by Anne Kinney and the University of Virginia