<Previous Section>
<Next Section>


Who wrote this chapter and the next?

Among the textual characteristics of this chapter, the outstanding feature is the opening sentence in its eulogy (9: 13b), which indicates plainly that at least the first paragraph of that eulogy was written by Pan Piao, Pan Ku's father (cf. n. 13.5). Ying Shao says, in a note to that passage, "The `Annals of Emperors Yüan' and `Ch'eng' were both composed by Pan Ku's father, Pan Piao." The "Memoir of Pan Piao" (HHS, Mem. 30 A: 2b) says, "Pan Piao thereupon continued to collect from matters that had been neglected by the preceding historians, and from other sources he added different reports, thus composing his Later Account (Hou-chuan), in several tens of chapters." Ying Shao may have had access to Pan Piao's work, which is lost today. Pan Ku quotes large passages from the Historical Memoirs of Szu-ma Ch'ien without giving any indication that he is quoting; thus if he quoted his father's composition, he might also have given no apparent sign of doing so. It is therefore possible that these two chapters were actually composed by Pan Piao.

Yet the style and characteristics of these two chapters are not different from those of the preceding and following chapters, except for this one sentence. (Very occasionally eulogies in other chapters likewise indicate that they are quotations from Pan Piao's work; cf. n. 13.5 ad finem.) There is indeed nothing in the whole History of the Former Han Dynasty to corroborate Ying Shao's statement about these two chapters. Possibly the first sentences of the eulogy were merely one of the "different reports" collected by Pan Piao and were simply used by Pan Ku as valuable evidence for a judgment upon Emperor Yüan's character. Ying Shao may not have had any further evidence than merely the present text of the HS, and from this one sentence may have come to the conclusion, that if Pan Piao wrote anything at all, he must have written at least an account of the court events in his own time and those of the generation preceding his. The fact that the HHS does not know how many chapters there were in Pan Piao's book would seem to indicate that his book did not circulate. It is not mentioned in the later lists of extant books. Hence it was probably preserved in Pan Piao's household and was largely incorporated into the HS, so that there was no reason to desire a copy of it. The probabilities seem thus to contradict Ying Shao's statement.

The sources of this chapter thus seem to have been largely the same as those of the preceding ones: a palace annals, the imperial collection of memorials and edicts, and some events collected by Pan Piao.

The textual loss

There is one sign of injury to the text, namely the broken sentence in 9: 7b. As early as the middle of the third century, Ju Shun noted this sentence, so that the remainder of the sentence was probably lost almost at the beginning of the text's history. There does not seem to be any other such sign of damage to the text in the "Annals."

The probable source of a significant imperial conversation

One further circumstance merits notice from a textual standpoint--- the conversation between Emperor Hsüan and his son reported in 9: 1b. It does not seem to be in Pan Ku's manner at all and may well have been one of Pan Piao's "different reports," recounted to him by a relative--- his relatives had the entree into the most intimate imperial circles and could well have observed this sort of thing (cf. n. 13.5). Or it might have been stenographically recorded. In 6 A.D., Wang Mang established an office of court reporters or stenographers, whose duty it was to keep a record of imperial remarks and deeds for future reference. They were entitled the Five Clerks at the Foot of the Pillars. Since the emperor usually decided matters by verbal replies, the courtiers needed a record of what he said, hence this office was necessary. The title was as old as the Ch'in and possibly the Chou period (cf. Glossary, sub voce), so that Wang Mang was probably enacting into law a long established practise. Many imperial edicts were probably dictations. (There is however, no evidence in Former Han times of any Right and Left Historiographers, Tso-shih and Yu-shih, attending the emperor to record his words and deeds.) The conversation mentioned above contains such a drastic criticism of Confucianism that sincere Confucians, such as Pan Piao and his son, would not have fabricated it and would not have included it in their histories had they not believed they had good evidence for its genuineness. It sums up very well the difference between Emperors Hsüan and Yüan. Pan Ku is so careful in his recordings and plainly depends so much upon written records, that he would hardly have recorded an imperial conversation for which he had no documentary or traditional evidence. I think one would be quite safe in holding that this conversation must have been well attested or else Pan Ku would have rejected it.

Summary of the reign

Emperor Yüan's reign (49-33 B.C.) was in general a time of peace, in which began the deterioration that ultimately led to the downfall of the dynasty. In foreign affairs the most important event was the brilliant expedition of Ch'en T'ang into Sogdiana; in internal affairs Confucianism was adopted as the guiding principle of government, bringing as a consequence administrative economies and a lightening of the people's burdens. The actual control of the government was, however, given to imperial maternal relatives and to a favorite eunuch.

Foreign affairs

In foreign affairs, the Huns caused little trouble. Their Shan-Yü Hu-han-hsieh had submitted himself to the Chinese in the preceding reign, and the Chinese continued to support him with large grants of grain. A large band of Huns who had been domiciled in Chinese territory escaped and joined him (9: 3a). The Western Ch'iang in the present Kansu rebelled when the harvest failed; but they were routed and driven out of Chinese territory.

Ch'en T'ang's extraordinary expedition into Sogdiana and the treatment of him by the government

The expedition of Ch'en T'ang against Shan-Yü Chih-chih was, next to the famous march of Li Ling deep into Hun territory, perhaps the most brilliant Chinese military exploit in the Former Han period after the time of Hsiang Yü.

Shan-Yü Chih-chih was the rival of Shan-Yü Hu-han-hsieh whom Emperor Hsüan had aided to establish himself in Mongolia; Chih-chih consequently fled to the west, fearing a surprise attack. There he made for himself a kingdom in the region east of Lake Balkash, and defeated the Wu-sun (in the present Ili valley), who were hereditary Chinese allies. He held a grudge against the Chinese for protecting his rival, hence he mistreated and shamed several Chinese envoys sent to him.

The affair of Chih-chih's son deepened the enmity between himself and the Chinese. His son had been staying at the Chinese court; in 45 B.C., Chih-chih sent an envoy with presents, asking that his son be returned. The proper thing was for a Chinese envoy to convoy the boy safely to his father's court, for which purpose Ku Chi was appointed. Some Chinese officials, however, feared for the safety of a Chinese envoy and argued that it would be sufficient to escort the boy to the borders. Ku Chi replied that for the sake of future relations with Chih-chih, the boy should be convoyed all the way. The matter seems to have been delayed and debated from 45 to 42 B.C.; perhaps because of this circumstance, when Ku Chi reached Chih-chih's court with the boy, Chih-chih killed the Chinese envoy. He knew that he had outraged the Chinese by this act, and that they would try to take vengenace, so he planned to flee further west.

Chih-chih's move to Sogdiana was on invitation of the King. The Greek kingdom in Sogdiana, a state located across the mountains of central Asia west of the Wu-sun, in the valley of the Jaxartes River, had collapsed a century previously; at this time the Sogdianans were much troubled by Wu-sun raids into their territory. Knowing of Chih-chih's great fame as a victorious fighter and Shan-Yü, and remembering that the Wu-sun had previously been vassals of the Huns, the King of Sogdiana invited Chih-chih to settle on the eastern borders of Sogdiana, and serve as a defence against the Wu-sun. An arrangement was made, and the King of Sogdiana sent some nobles with several thousand camels, asses, and horses to convoy Chih-chih. Unfortunately for him, a cold spell caught his troop on the road and only 3,000 people survived the trip to Sogdiana. Unless Chih-chih was followed by other Huns at other dates (which does not seem very likely) there was thus in this century no mass migration of Huns westwards.

The King of Sogdiana and Chih-chih confirmed their alliance by each marrying the other's daughter. With Sogdianan troops, Chih-chih attacked and drove away the Wu-sun, penetrating deep into their territory, so that they left their western borders uninhabited for a thousand li. Other successes puffed Chih-chih up until he repudiated the King of Sogdiana as his overlord and killed the King's daughter, setting himself up as an independent king and building a fortified capital city for himself. He exacted tribute even from Ferghana and states north of it, which were Chinese tributaries.

Chih-chih's power was a threat to the Chinese hold on the Tarim basin. At this time the valley of the Tarim basin (with surrounding regions west and north) was called by the Chinese "the Western Frontier Regions." It had been put under the control of a Protector-General with an Associate. To maintain order, a Chinese military force was established in a central part of the Tarim basin (usually at Turfan) as an agricultural colony, under an officer called the Mou-and-Chi Colonel. ( Mou and chi are the central stems and this officer was located in the center of the Western Frontier Regions.) Each of the cities in the Western Frontier Regions was also required to contribute a force of levies at the call of the Emperor. The office of Protector-General had been established in 67 B.C. and later, in 59 B.C., its rank had been increased to fully two thousand piculs, a rank the same as that of Grand Administrators of Commanderies and many court officials. The office of Mouand-Chi Colonel had been established in 48 B.C.; hence it can be seen that the Tarim basin did not become an important part of the Chinese administration until almost the latter half of the first century B.C.

In 38 B.C. Ch'en Tang was sent out to the Tarim basin as Associate to the new Protector-General, Kan Yen-shou. The former was an ambitious boy from a poor family, who had been given very minor posts and had asked for a foreign appointment in order to have an opportunity to distinguish himself. He showed himself a man of keen insight and paid much attention to his duties. He soon comprehended the political situation of central Asia, and saw in Chih-chih a potential source of serious danger to Chinese interests. Chih-chih was brave and able, and planned an empire in central Asia athwart the silk route. Although he had moved out of the regions tributary to the Chinese, his empire would endanger the western part of the Western Frontier Regions. Hence it was important to crush him before he had established himself firmly in Sogdiana.

To attack Chih-chih rapidly required a bold stroke on Ch'en T'ang's part. Kan Yen-shou agreed with his Associate that Chih-chih must be crushed, and wanted to follow the usual procedure: memorialize the court and ask for permission. Ch'en T'ang had, however, gaged the temper of the Emperor and his court; such a request would bring endless delays, consultations, and finally a refusal from the pacifistic and narrow-minded court and ministers. No request was sent. Kan Yen-shou fell ill for a long period, and Ch'en T'ang seized this opportunity. He boldly forged an imperial order mobilizing the troops of the cities together with the garrison of the Mou-and-Chi Colonel. When the troops arrived at the Protector-General's seat at Wu-lei, in the neighborhood of the present Chadir, Kan Yen-shou was aghast and rose from his sick bed, intending to stop the mobilization. Ch'en T'ang, however, intimidated and persuaded his superior officer to desist. The expeditionary force, numbering more than 40,000, was organized into six regiments, each with a Colonel. Following the Chinese practise of having separate columns converge upon a single objective, three regiments were to take the southern route along the southern border of the Takla-Makan Desert, cross the Pamirs, and traverse Ferghana to Sogdiana. The other three regiments, under the Protector-General himself, with Ch'en T'ang, were to follow the northern route, north of the desert, gather at Uch-Turfan, cross the mountains to the Issik Kul, and transverse Wu-sun territory into Sogdiana. Kan Yen-shou and Ch'en T'ang memorialized the Emperor, accusing themselves of having forged an imperial order and relating the circumstances, then set out westwards, where imperial commands to desist could not reach them for some months.

The column of the Protector-General defeated a Sogdianan raiding party and arrived in Sogdiana ahead of the other column. The Chinese troops were kept from robbing the Sogdianans, and a secret arrangement was made with these people. Then Sogdianan nobles who had grudges against Chih-chih allowed themselves to be captured, so that the Chinese were informed of Chih-chih's circumstances. At last the Chinese army encamped three li from Chih-chih's city.

This city was defended by an earthen wall, outside of which there was a double wooden palisade and a moat, with towers for archers inside the city. On the wall several hundred armed men were seen; outside more than a hundred cavalry rode about; and at both sides of the city gate there were lined up more than a hundred soldiers arranged "like the scales of a fish" (probably Roman legionaries from Crassus' army; cf. TP 36, 64-80). When the Hun cavalry rode towards the Chinese, the disciplined Chinese line awaited the attack with their crossbows ready cocked, so that the horsemen were repulsed with losses. The Chinese crossbows outranged the Hun bows, and arrow fire drove the Huns into their city. Then the Chinese force was marshalled around the city on all sides; the sound of a drum signalled the attack. They drained the moat and advanced with great shields in front and lances and crossbows behind. Some of these crossbows were so heavy that they could only be cocked by a strong man lying on the ground, with his feet against the bow and pulling the string with his hands. Such were the bows used by "skilled soldiers." The Hun archers were outranged, driven from their towers, and made to take refuge behind the earthen wall. Chih-chih himself, with his Yen-chih (empress) and several tens of other women, shot from one of the towers; Chinese arrows hit him in the nose and killed some of his ladies, so that he too had to descend. Then the Chinese gathered faggots and set fire to the palisades. During the night, several hundred Hun cavalry tried to escape, but were shot down by the Chinese. By midnight the palisade was pierced, and the people within withdrew inside the earthen wall.

During the night large bands of Sogdianan cavalry surrounded the Chinese besiegers in response to the call of Chih-chih for succor. They attacked several times, but unsuccessfully, never pressing their attacks home. Probably they were only half-hearted, for Chih-chih had offended the Sogdianans by his high-handed actions. At dawn the Chinese feigned to attack the Sogdianans, setting fires and making a loud noise with bells, drums, and shouting, thus frightening the Sogdianan horses and driving the attackers away. Then the Chinese pushed forward against the city on all sides under protection of their large shields, and penetrated the earthen wall. Chih-chih's people, numbering more than a hundred, fled into his private quarters. The Chinese set fire to this place; in the fighting, Chih-chih was wounded and killed. The city was looted and the credentials of Ku Chi and another Chinese envoy were discovered. Altogether 1518 heads were taken, including those of Chih-chih, his Yen-chih, his Heir-apparent, and distinguished kings in his following. One hundred forty-five captives (possibly the Romans) were taken alive, and more than a thousand persons surrendered. These captives were distributed among the auxiliaries of the Chinese, while the Romans were settled at Li-chien in present Kansu. From the above account, it is possible to estimate the size of Chih-chih's following. There is no indication in it of any Hun mass migration into Asia west of the central mountains. In the attack, all Huns were probably killed and those taken alive were Sogdianans and others who had joined Chih-chih.

The foregoing is the most vivid and detailed account of military operations to be found in the HS. It is now found in the "Memoir of Ch'en T'ang," and was probably taken from Ch'en T'ang's report to Emperor Yüan, together with the maps of his route, adorned with paintings, which accompanied the report and which delighted the court and imperial harem. (It is translated by J. J. L. Duyvendak in T'oung Pao, vol. 34, no. 4, pp. 259-261 and by de Groot in Die Hunnen, pp. 230-7.) His expedition shows the power of the Chinese governmental organization at the time, that the Chinese should have been able, without drawing upon the central government, to make an expedition to such a vast distance and capture a fortified town, exacting vengeance for a murdered envoy.

One important reason for this success was that the Chinese enjoyed a decided material advantage over the barbarians. Many years later, in the reign of Emperor Ch'eng, another Protector-General of the Western Frontier Regions was besieged by the Wu-sun. When he sent for help, Ch'en T'ang was summoned from private life to advise the Emperor. On his expedition he had suffered from cold, so that he was not able to straighten his arms, hence he was specially exempted from the usual prostrations when he entered the imperial presence. Ch'en T'ang said that the barbarians' swords had been blunt and their bows and crossbows were not good, so that one Chinese soldier had been equal to five barbarian soldiers; that by this time the barbarians had secured some of the Chinese skill, but even yet one Chinese was worth three barbarians. Mr. C. W. Bishop suggested that perhaps these barbarians, like the Germans conquered by Julius Caesar, did not know how to temper iron, with the result that their weapons were soft. Probably the barbarians' crossbows did not have the efficient Han crossbow trigger mechanism, the secret of which, (a triple compound lever) was closely guarded and not permitted to leave China, so that it did not reach even medieval Europe. Without such a mechanism, strong crossbows would not be practical. Chinese crossbow bolts could drive defenders from a city wall. Chinese mechanical skill undoubtedly played a large part in their military conquests.

How did the central government treat its servants who had achieved a notable victory? Similarly to the way governments in Europe have sometimes treated those who conquered colonial territory for them. Emperor Yüan was inwardly elated and proud of Ch'en T'ang's achievement, the most brilliant in several reigns. But Shih Hsien, Emperor Yüan's favorite eunuch, who controlled the government, bore a grudge against Kan Yen-shou. Shih Hsien had wanted to marry his elder sister to Kan Yen-shou, but the latter had refused. The meticulous Confucian Lieutenant Chancellor, K'uang Heng, and the Confucian Grandee Secretary, P'an Yen-shou, were mortally offended because the imperial order summoning the expedition had been forged. Thus the influential ministers were united against Ch'en T'ang. In the spring of 35 B.C., the head of Shan-Yü Chih-chih arrived in Ch'ang-an, with the suggestion that it be hung up at the gate of the Lodge in Ch'ang-an for Barbarian Princes, in order to show them that even if a person who had outraged the Chinese should fly to the most distant parts, he would be pursued and executed. But the ministers memorialized that, according to the Confucian rules for the seasons, winter was the time for executions and spring was the time to cover skeletons and bury carcases, so that the head should not be hung up. The generals at the Chinese court, however, replied that it should be hung up for ten days and then buried. Ch'en T'ang was accused of avarice and of having sent into China illegally-obtained wealth. The Colonel Director of the Retainers, whose duty it was to investigate imperial officials in the capital and neighboring commandaries, ordered that Ch'en T'ang's conduct should be investigated. Normally Ch'en T'ang would have been arrested and imprisoned; Ch'en T'ang replied, asking if the Colonel was avenging the death of Chih-chih. Emperor Yüan was shocked and immediately sent out officers and soldiers, ordering the cities to feast Ch'en T'ang's troops. Shih Hsien and K'uang Heng, however, told the Emperor at a banquet that since Kan Yen-shou and Ch'en T'ang had raised their army by forging an imperial order, they would be fortunate not to be executed, and, if they were rewarded by being given noble ranks and estates, their illegal acts would be repeated by later envoys, thus causing trouble for the government. Although Emperor Yüan was delighted at the great military victory achieved in his reign, he did not want to go contrary to the advice of his favorite eunuch and Lieutenant Chancellor, so the matter dragged along for a long time. In 33 B.C., Kan Yen-shou was at last given a full marquisate with a small estate, and Ch'en T'ang was made a Kuan-nei Marquis. They were each given a grant of a hundred catties of actual gold and official promotion. That same year the Hun Shan-yu Hu-han-hsieh came to pay court to Emperor Yüan to thank him for having annihilated his rival.

When, a month later, Emperor Ch'eng came to the throne, K'uang Heng memorialized that Ch'en T'ang had not acted correctly towards the barbarians; he had stolen the treasures he secured in Sogdiana, and although he had done these things before a general amnesty had been declared, yet it was not proper that he should occupy an official position. So he was tried and dismissed. Later he was accused and condemned on a capital charge; Emperor Ch'eng freed him from punishment, but took away his noble rank and made him a common soldier. The imperial ministers had long memories for an offence against their pride.

The complete victory of Confucianism

Perhaps the most important circumstance in Emperor Yüan's rule was his complete and whole-hearted acceptance of Han Confucianism. The reason for this adherence is to be found in the circumstance that his teachers had been Confucians. Since Confucian scholarship had made Confucians the masters of knowledge, they became the teachers of youth, and in due time became the counsellors of emperors. The criticism of Emperor Hsüan's rule by his Heir-apparent and of Confucianism by Emperor Hsüan in the conversation at the beginning of this chapter is highly significant.

In accordance with his convictions, Emperor Yüan selected Confucians to head his government. His Lieutenant Chancellors were Yu Ting-kuo, who had been appointed by Emperor Hsüan, Wei Hsüan-ch'eng, and K'uang Heng. Wei Hsüan-ch'eng had participated in the discussions in the Shih-ch'ü Pavilion as an authority on the Book of Odes. K'uang Heng was also an authority on the Book of Odes; he had been recommended to Emperor Hsüan, but that Emperor did not care for scholarship in government, and had sent him back to his post in P'ing-Yüan Commandery. The future Emperor Yüan had an interview with him at this time and liked him. Perhaps this interview led to the conversation recounted at the beginning of this "Annals."

Because capable officials were first tried out in various ministerial positions and regularly occupied the post of Grandee Secretary before becoming Lieutenant Chancellor, some prominent Confucians died in office or retired because of age before the position of Lieutenant Chancellor became vacant. Hence Pan Ku includes Kung Yü and Hsieh Kuang-tê in his list of influential and distinguished Confucian ministers (9: 14a). The other Grandee Secretaries were of such negligible importance that they are not even mentioned in the "Annals." Hsieh Kuang-tê had also participated in the discussions of the classics in the Shih-ch'ü Pavilion as an authority on the Book of Odes. Perhaps the most influential of these Confucians was Kung Yü, who suggested a number of reforms, some of which were put into effect after his death by K'uang Heng.

Visitations and calamities

During this reign, calamities were numerous, especially at the beginning of the period. In the "Annals" for the reign, calamities are recorded in almost every year. There does seem to have been a succession of favorable seasons in Emperor Hsüan's reign and a succession of droughts at the beginning of Emperor Yüan's reign. It is, moreover, likely that many of these calamities are recorded because the Confucians emphasized them as a means of expressing a veiled criticism of the reign, especially of the power exercised by Shih Hsien, and as a means of pointing out the need for governmental reform. Tung Chung-shu had taught that when something is wrong in the government, Heaven sends a visitation (tsai); if matters are not corrected, Heaven then sends a prodigy (yi) to terrify the culprit. In themselves, these droughts, floods, fires, frosts, comets, eclipses, and earthquakes are not improbable; the unusual number recorded in this reign is very likely due to the fact that such events were usually somewhat neglected and were emphasized chiefly when people, because of their dissatisfaction with the government, expected them. Conversely, in a good and prosperous reign, such as those of Emperors Hsüan and Chang, people expected auspicious visitations, hence saw and reported supernatural birds, sweet dew, etc. These visitations were thus probably all natural events, some of which (e.g. the supernatural birds) were merely misinterpretations of what had actually been seen. What made them visitations was merely the interpretation put upon them in accordance with Confucian teaching.

Because of the Confucian doctrine that Heaven sends warnings to the ruler by means of portents, Emperor Yüan in his edicts (probably drafted for him by his Confucian ministers) asked for explanations of these events, seeking to know where the fault lay, and intelligent Confucians took the opportunity to suggest changes in the government. Some blamed the portents upon the machinations of Shih Hsien, but Emperor Yüan would not accept such interpretations. In accordance with Confucian doctrine, these natural events became the occasion for governmental reforms.

Governmental reforms and economies

The Confucians who succeeded in gaining Emperor Yüan's ear showed themselves, like the Confucians in the Discourse on Salt and Iron, interested in what would benefit the common people. Kung Yü pointed out to Emperor Yüan the expense and luxury of the court, contrasting it with the simplicity of ancient times and the restraint in Han times before Emperor Wu, when the imperial harem did not have more than ten-odd women and the imperial stable had only a hundred-odd horses. Since that time, he said, luxury had been the rule and the courtiers had vied with each other in luxuriousness. In Ch'i (the present Shantung), several thousands of workmen were kept busy preparing fine silks and garments in the imperial ateliers, at a cost of several hundred million cash per year. In Shu and Kuang-han Commanderies (the present Szechuan), over fifty million cash were expended yearly at the imperial workshops for gold and silver vessels. The common people were suffering from famine and even practising cannibalism, while the horses in the imperial stables were fed and suffered from obesity, the imperial harem was overflowing with women, and the imperial musicians were too numerous. Kung Yü urged that this expense be reduced as much as two-thirds, that only twenty-odd women should be retained in the harem; the imperial concubines of deceased emperors who were being kept at the imperial tombs should be sent home to be married (except for the several hundred women at the tomb of Emperor Hsüan), only several tens of horses should be retained in the imperial stables, and many of the imperial parks should be given to the people for cultivation. With the encouragement of Shih Hsien, Emperor Yüan accepted most of this advice and reduced the imperial expenses.

After Kung Yü became Grandee Secretary, he continued making suggestions for economy in the government. He pointed out that the annual head tax upon children, beginning in their third year, called the poll-money, led to much infanticide, and suggested that the poll-money be not required until a child was in its seventh year. The Emperor approved. He pointed out that the practise established by Emperor Wu of allowing money commutation for crimes encouraged crime and disorder. In accordance with the Confucian policy of esteeming ancient practises, Kung Yü also pointed out that the free use of money in Han times, different from the ancient payments in kind, allowed persons to live without farming, and the advantages of trade led many to leave agriculture, reducing the supply of food. The government monopoly of copper mining and coinage and of iron production employed a hundred thousand convicts. Since each farmer feeds seven persons, Kung Yü argued that 700,000 persons a year go hungry because these persons were diverted from agriculture. Merchants charged 20% interest and did not pay the land tax or the tax on produce, whereas farmers paid both, with the result that less than half of the common people were farmers. He urged that the offices for the manufacture of objects using jewels, gold, and silver, and those for coinage be abolished; the use of money be done away with; merchants should not be allowed to buy or sell; only the land should be taxed; and that taxes, salaries, and imperial grants should all be in cloth or grain, in order that the people should be compelled to return to agriculture and obtain the advantages of ancient times. The conservative Confucians' opposition to a growing money economy is well exemplified in the above memorial. Fortunately Emperor Yüan did not adopt this proposal; when Wang Mang attempted to put Confucian reforms into effect, disorder and calamity followed.

As a result of the foregoing and other suggestions, Emperor Yüan effected many economies. He disestablished the palaces and lodges in Shang-lin Park that were rarely used. He did away with the guard at Chien-chang and Kan-ch'üan Palaces, and reduced by half the guard at the temples to vassal kings. The number of imperial musicians was lessened, the expense of the imperial table was diminished, the imperial stables, kennels, and menagerie were reduced, and imperial gardens, parks, ponds, and fields were given to the common people. The competitive games, the imperial ateliers in Ch'i, and the government granaries which purchased grain with tax money, instead of having grain transported to the capital, were abolished. Even the government monopoly of salt and iron was abolished, although four years later the need for income compelled its reestablishment. Thus real economies were made in governmental expenditures and a beginning was made in the direction of the economic reforms so extensively attempted by Wang Mang.

Emperor Yüan also relieved his people of other burdens. Capital punishment was lightened in seventy matters. Guarantors for their relatives (except in the case of high officials) were no longer to be punished along with those persons whom they had guaranteed. Witnesses were not to be called up at times when they had to work their fields. Arrangement was made that the grandparents, parents, and brothers of those in the imperial palaces could be registered at the palace gates, enter the palace, and visit their relatives within. No funerary town was established at Emperor Yüan's tomb. Grants of tax remission, amnesties, ranks, silk, etc. were made at times of drought and calamity and at other occasions. When the aborigines in the southern part of the island of Hainan revolted, the commandery of Chu-yai was abolished rather than burden the people with a struggle to reconquer such a barbarian region.

Enactment of fundamental features in the imperial ancestral cult

Among the most expensive features of the government were the imperial ancestral temples. Emperor Kao had ordered his vassal kings each to establish a Temple of the Grand Emperor (his father) at their capitals. The commanderies and kingdoms which Emperor Kao (entitled the Eminent Founder), Emperor Hsiao-wen (entitled the Grand Exemplar), and Emperor Hsiao-wu (entitled the Epochal Exemplar) had visited, each established temples to those emperors, so that there were 167 imperial ancestral temples in the commanderies and kingdoms. In the capital commanderies, nine emperors (including the Grand Emperor and the Deceased Imperial Father Tao, the father of Emperor Hsüan) were worshipped. Each one had his funerary chamber (in which food was offered four times a day), his temple (in which sacrifices were made 25 times a year), and his side-hall (in which sacrifices were made at each of the four seasons). There were also thirty other places of worship for imperial personages, such as the Kao-tsu's mother, his eldest brother and elder sister, the Empress Dowagers, the grandfather of Emperor Hsüan, etc. The cost of the food used in this worship was 24,455 cash per year; 45,129 guards were employed in addition to 12,417 intercessors, butchers, and musicians, without counting those who reared and cared for prospective sacrificial victims. Kung Yü memorialized that anciently the Son of Heaven maintained only seven shrines: those of the six immediately preceding ancestors and of the founder of the house. The tablets of other remote ancestors were removed to the temple of the founder of the house and worshipped along with his tablet. Kung Yü also said that the imperial ancestral temples in the commanderies and kingdoms were not in accordance with ancient ritual practises. He proposed disestablishing them, discontinuing the separate sacrifices to Emperors Hsiao-hui and Hsiao-ching at the imperial capital, and combining these sacrifices with those to Emperor Kao. Thus the Confucian exaltation of ancient practises meant a great simplification and economy in Han times.

Emperor Yüan agreed with the suggestion, but Kung Yü died in 43 B.C., before the matter could be discussed and enacted. In 40 B.C., Emperor Yüan ordered a discussion by Wei Hsüan-ch'eng and sixty-nine other eminent Confucians. They approved Kung Yü's suggestions, and the changes were made. Thereafter only the five immediately preceding generations of imperial ancestors were worshipped separately, except that the separate worship of the Founder and the two Exemplars was continued.

Such drastic abolition of almost two hundred ancestral shrines could not but arouse doubt in an age when even Confucians were superstitious. After the death of Wei Hsüan-ch'eng in 36 B.C., Emperor Yüan was seriously ill and dreamed that his ancestors blamed him for having abolished their temples in the commanderies and kingdoms. When his younger brother dreamed the same thing, Emperor Yüan asked his Confucian Lieutenant Chancellor, K'uang Heng, whether the temples had not better be restored. K'uang Heng, true to the Confucian exaltation of ancient practises, replied that they should not. But when Emperor Yüan had been ill for a long time and did not recover, K'uang Heng became afraid, took the blame upon himself, and prayed to the emperors whose temples had been abolished. In 34 B.C., after Emperor Yüan had been ill for successive years, the abolished temples were restored. Immediately after Emperor Yüan's death in 33 B.C., K'uang Heng, however, memorialized that these temples should be again abolished, and it was done. The custom of worshipping only the five immediately preceding ancestors began its popularity at this time. Thus the Confucian veneration of ancient practises proved a great boon to the people and government.

The "Ordinances for the Months"

During this reign the ordinances for the months, a Confucian superstition, began to be popular. It seems to have first received government recognition through the efforts of Wei Hsiang in the preceding reign. This belief is based upon the ancient conceit that there is a sympathy between the stars, the four seasons, the five directions, the five Lords on High, the yin and yang, the weather, etc., and certain human activities, so that if the wrong activities are performed in any month, calamities of unseasonable weather, poor crops, pestilence, or something of the sort will follow. This doctrine probably arose out of the demand for an explanation of unseasonable weather, earthquakes, droughts, etc. Already in 197 B.C. there had been drafted a set of rules for the colors of imperial robes in the various seasons (the weather depended upon the imperial actions). Grants and favors were bestowed in the spring; executions and military expeditions were performed in winter, etc. Under Wei Hsiang's influence, four Confucian scholars had been appointed, one to be an authority on each season, to advise the emperor what were the proper activities for that season. This sort of study developed into the "Ordinances for the Months (Yüeh-ling)", Chapter IV of the Book of Rites. (This chapter is also found, with slight modifications, in the Lü-shih Ch'un-ch'iu , but the latter book was worked over in the iii cent. A.D., so that the repetition of this chapter in both books may mean little.) Thus Confucian scholarship was turned to the direction of pseudo-science.

A second civil service test added

The civil service examination system was developed in this period by an enactment that the Superintendant of the Imperial Household should rank the imperial retinue yearly according to a set of Confucian virtues (9: 7a and n. 7.5). Since the commonest way of entering the bureaucracy was for prospective officials to spend a term as members of the imperial retinue (cf. 5: n. 9.9), in order that the emperor might become acquainted with them, and since the Superintendant of the Imperial Household was in charge of such persons at the imperial court, this development was logical. The bureaucracy had grown to such a size that even an industrious emperor could no longer know individually all the prospective officials. Hence this second and moral test was added after the first and literary examination.

Imperial adoption of the Confucian principle that one's relatives should be favored

Emperor Yüan thus whole-heartedly adopted Confucianism and allowed its tenets markedly to influence his government, choosing distinguished Confucian scholars for his highest civil officials;---the army was, however, kept under the control of his maternal relatives. The day before he died, Emperor Hsüan had appointed Shih Kao as Commanderin-chief. This man was a maternal first cousin of Emperor Hsüan's father and the head of the Shih clan (that of Emperor Hsüan's paternal grandmother), who had reared Emperor Hsüan. When Shih Kao retired because of age in 43 B.C., this position was given to Wang Chieh5, a maternal first cousin of Emperor Hsüan, and after Wang Chieh5's death in 41 B.C., it was given to Hsü Chia, a paternal first cousin of Emperor Yüan's mother, who held it until 30 B.C. Thus the control of the army was given to the clans of Emperor Yüan's great-grandmother, grandmother, and mother, successively.

This practise of giving high position and great power to the maternal relatives of the emperor is justified by Confucian teaching. The Book of History, in its second paragraph, declares that as one of the essential acts in his rule, Yao (who was admired extravagantly by Confucius [cf. Analects VIII, xix]) favored his nine sets of relatives. Mencius declares that the favoring of one's relatives (ch'in-ch'in) constitutes benevolence (jen) (VI, B, iii, 2). In the Doctrine of the Mean (XX, 13, 14), which probably represents Later Han conceptions, Confucius is represented as advocating this virtue as fundamental and as saying, "To exalt their positions, to make their emoluments large, and to share their likes and dislikes is the way in which to encourage [people in the virtue of] favoring their relatives."

The Chinese phrase, ch'in-ch'in, may be interpreted "love one's relatives" as well as "favor one's relatives." An idealist like Tung Chung-shu might maintain, "A true king continually takes as his ideal the loving and benefiting of all under Heaven," but this statement must not be interpreted to mean the equal love of all people. Confucius had set bounds to the sage's regard for others when he rejected the principle of love for one's enemies. In practice, the principle of loving one's relatives and others becomes the loving of one's relatives more than others, which slips, by imperceptible degrees, into favoring one's relatives. Probably Mencius, with his high moral ideals, meant only the first of these interpretations. Thus favoring one's relatives is a cardinal Confucian virtue.

Successive rebellions had led the Han dynasty to the set practise of keeping its paternal relatives, the members of the Liu clan, at a distance from the imperial capital, giving them small kingdoms or marquisates, but depriving them of any power in the imperial government. Members of the imperial house and people from kingdoms ruled by members of the imperial house were not supposed even to hold high office in the imperial capital or in neighboring commanderies. This rule was, however, not always enforced. An exception was regularly made for the Superintendant of the Imperial House, who was always a member of the imperial house. Membership in the imperial house lapsed after a certain number of generations (nowhere definitely specified). The attempted seizure of the throne by the Lü clan after the death of the Empress Dowager née Lü in 180 B.C. led the next two rulers, who were not wholeheartedly Confucian, to restrict the powers of their maternal relatives. Emperor Wu, however, broke with this wise policy. Dynastic custom had kept the Han emperors from giving governmental power into the hands of their paternal relatives; consequently the Confucian virtue of "favoring one's relatives" was turned to be applied specifically to relatives on the distaff side, especially those of the Empresses Dowager, of the Empresses, and of favorite concubines. Emperor Wu appointed the relatives of his favorite women to high position. His most successful generals, Wei Ch'ing and Ho Ch'ü-ping, were a half-brother and a nephew, respectively, of his favorite concubine, whom he made his Empress. Ho Kuang, the man whom he selected to be virtual regent for his successor, and who actually ruled the country for nineteen years, was a half-brother of Wei Ch'ing. When Ho Kuang died, Emperor Hsüan at first pursued the policy of continuing in high office Ho Kuang's clan and those of Ho Kuang's group who had assisted him in bringing Emperor Hsüan to the throne. But the rebellion of the Ho clan made him look to other persons for support. Emperor Hsüan, when young, had been reared in the family of his maternal grandmother, the Shih clan; when the disloyalty of the Ho clan was discovered, Emperor Hsüan of course turned for support to this clan and to his wife's relatives, the Hsü clan, for their interests were naturally bound up with his own. The Liu clan, his paternal relatives, were potential rivals for the throne. Thus the necessity of finding some group in the court whose unswerving loyalty could be counted upon because their interests were bound up with those of the occupant of the throne led to the exaltation of the imperial relatives on the distaff side. Emperor Yüan, under the combined influence of his father's precedent and of Confucian teaching, continued this practise of giving the highest positions to his relatives. Emperor Ch'eng also continued it, and finally, when later a child emperor had kept one particular clan in power for a long period, this clan, in the person of Wang Mang, overthrew the dynasty.

The practise of favoring the ruler's maternal relatives and relatives by marriage has of course sometimes been influential in non-Confucian lands, often with similar results, so that Confucianism cannot be charged with initiating such a practise. What Confucianism did in China was to afford a philosophical and ethical justification for this practise, with the result that criticism of the practise could be stifled and the practise could be urged as a duty by interested parties upon rulers who might not otherwise desire to trust their relatives too much. Thus Confucianism encouraged nepotism and removed the bulwark afforded by common sense against the abuse of imperial relationships. The inevitable result was the eventual downfall of the dynasty. Confucian idealism was thus the most important contributory factor in the downfall of the Former Han dynasty as well as that of the Later Han dynasty.

Eunuch control of the government; Confucian attacks upon and eventual victory over the eunuchs

The actual control of governmental business during this reign was neither in the hands of the Confucian scholars in high civil position nor of the imperial maternal relatives in control of the army, but in the hands of Emperor Yüan's favorite eunuch, Shih Hsien. The custom of employing eunuchs as imperial private secretaries was begun by Emperor Wu. He spent much of his leisure in the imperial harem, to which ordinary persons were not admitted; hence he needed eunuchs for his private secretaries. They were entitled Palace Writers, and should be distinguished from the Masters of Writing, who were noneunuch imperial private secretaries.

At the end of the previous reign, when Emperor Hsüan was dying, he selected his maternal cousin, Shih Kao, together with the two learned Confucians who were the Grand Tutor and Junior Tutor to the Heir-apparent, Hsiao Wang-chih and Chou K'an, to be the persons who should guide the Heir. The two Confucians were concurrently made Intendants of Affairs of the Masters of Writing, usually the key position in the government.

Hsiao Wang-chih was perhaps the most learned and famous Confucian scholar of the time. He had been highly honored and influential under Emperor Hsüan and, while he had been the future Emperor's Tutor, had secured the deep respect of Emperor Yüan. Now that this thoroughly Confucian Emperor was on the throne, Hsiao Wang-chih thought that the opportunity had come for introducing Confucian reforms into the government. His clique included the famous Confucian, Liu Hsiang(4), who was Superintendant of the Imperial House.

The rise of the eunuch Shih Hsien to a position of influence came about when Shih Kao found his power checked by that of Hsiao Wang-chih, who had been made General of the Van. Shih Kao was jealous of the favor shown by Emperor Yüan to these Confucians and found two influential Palace Writers, Hung Kung and Shih Hsien (the latter was no relative of Shih Kao), who were glad to league with him. They were both men who in their youth had fallen foul of the numerous and involved laws enacted by Emperor Wu, had been made eunuchs, and had been selected, first as members of the eunuch Yellow Gate, and later as Palace Writers. Hung Kung proved capable in the law, knew historical precedents, and was skilled in preparing memorials, so was made Chief Palace Writer. Shih Hsien was made a Supervisor, and, when Hung Kung died several years after Emperor Yüan came to the throne, Shih Hsien was promoted to be Chief Palace Writer.

Emperor Yüan was quite ignorant concerning the mechanics of running a government, whereas Hung Kung and Shih Hsien had long occupied their positions, knew how to handle affairs, and were well acquainted with the laws. Hence Emperor Yüan soon found them indispensable. He was ill and did not attend to government business, giving his time to music. Shih Hsien had no outside connections, was attentive and reliable, and was able to anticipate Emperor Yüan's wishes, so Emperor Yüan entrusted him with making decisions in great and small affairs. Shih Kao in the court and Shih Hsien in the imperial private chambers were thus quite able to check and defeat for a time the Confucian influence (later they made terms with it).

Hsiao Wang-chih recognized the source of his opposition, and proposed to Emperor Yüan that eunuchs should not be employed in such a confidential and important capacity as imperial private secretaries, for which only unmutilated persons should be used. He urged that the employment of eunuchs in such a capacity was not an old constitutional practise, and that it was contrary to the Confucian principle (now found in the Book of Rites, I, i, iv, 52; Legge, I, 90) that a person who had been punished should not be allowed to be by the side of a prince.

Hsiao Wang-chih, Chou K'an, and Liu Hsiang4 went so far as to discuss the proposal of asking the Emperor to dismiss his imperial maternal relatives. This proposal leaked out, and, before they had said anything to the Emperor, the imperial relatives had a Confucian (whom Hsiao Wang-chih had failed to promote) slander the Confucian clique. The matter was brought to Emperor Yüan's attention on a day when Hsiao Wang-chih was on leave from the court; Hung Kung was appointed to investigate the charge. He reported that Hsiao Wang-chih, Chou K'an, and Liu Hsiang(4) had formed a cabal to promote one another, slander high officials, and degrade the imperial maternal relatives, in order to seize the power themselves, which constituted disloyalty and inhumanity, and he begged that they be given in charge of the Commandant of Justice. Emperor Yüan had just come to the throne and did not know that a summons to the Commandant of Justice meant imprisonment, so he approved the request. When he later asked for Chou K'an and Liu Hsiang4, he was astounded to be told that they were in prison, whereupon he had them immediately released. Hsiao Wang-chih, because he was General of the Van, seems not to have been imprisoned at this time. Hung Kung and Shih Hsien now had Shih Kao memorialize that since these persons had been in prison, they should be pardoned and dismissed from their offices. In 47 B.C., Emperor Yüan accordingly dismissed the Confucians from their posts.

Several months later he recalled Hsiao Wang-chih and ennobled him, intending eventually to make him the Lieutenant Chancellor. Hung Kung and Shih Hsien, however, reminded Emperor Yüan that Hsiao Wang-chih was proud and that he believed he would never be brought to task for what he did, so that it was necessary to send him to prison in order to humble his pride. Emperor Yüan feared that Hsiao Wang-chih's pride would never allow him to be taken to prison, but they replied that if he were sent to prison on a petty charge, he would have nothing to fear. So Emperor Yüan agreed to their plan. Shih Hsien and the others thereupon ordered the police to surround Hsiao Wang-chih's residence, and a messenger gave him the warrant for his arrest. He wanted to commit suicide, but his wife stopped him, telling him that the Emperor did not want his death. A disciple, who loved resolution, however encouraged his master to be firm and to avoid disgrace by ending his life. Hsiao Wang-chih sighed that for him, a former General, to go to prison in order to save his life would be shameful, so he drank poison. Emperor Yüan was shocked at what he had done. He wept and would not eat. He wanted to punish Shih Hsien and the others because they had not advised him concerning the consequences of his act. They begged his pardon and explained at length, and the matter blew over. Thus they disposed of their most dangerous enemy.

Whenever there was a calamity, Emperor Yüan would ask his subjects to explain to him what was to blame, and several good Confucians blamed the anger of Heaven upon Shih Hsien's machinations. Each time, Shih Hsien heard about it and managed to have the complainant caught up and punished on some crime, so that this eunuch came to be feared greatly by the officials in the capital. A famous Confucian authority on the Book of Changes, Ching Fang, secured Emperor Yüan's ear and pointed out to him that the ancient rulers who had wicked ministers had been warned by a succession of calamities such as those that occurred in the reign of Emperor Yüan. Then he drew the conclusion that the person at fault was the Emperor's most intimate and confidential advisor, whom Emperor Yüan confessed was Shih Hsien. Nevertheless, Emperor Yüan could not spare his favorite eunuch. Shih Hsien soon had Ching Fang promoted to a position away from the capital. He discovered that Ching Fang had repeated to others what the Emperor had once said to him in the imperial private apartments, which was a capital crime. Thereupon he had Ching Fang executed.

Shih Hsien was afraid that Emperor Yüan would eventually listen to criticism of him, so he kept searching out his critics relentlessly and had them executed for one crime or another. People generally said that he had killed Hsiao Wang-chih. When the famous Confucian, Kung Yü, came to the court, Shih Hsien hence purposely sent someone to tell him that he wished him well and wanted to aid him, and recommended him to Emperor Yüan. Thus Kung Yü eventually became Grandee Secretary and was able to bring about many reforms. Then people ceased to believe that Shih Hsien had killed Hsiao Wang-chih.

Before Emperor Yüan died, Shih Hsien, who was afraid of punishment after his patron's death, resigned his office as Palace Writer and took a low position in the harem. Nevertheless, he was still highly favored by the Emperor and was given large grants. He was active in bringing Emperor Ch'eng to the throne, and was rewarded by the latter with a high official position. The Confucian Lieutenant Chancellor, K'uang Heng, and the Grandee Secretary, Chang T'an, now dared to bring Shih Hsien's evil deeds to the attention of Emperor Ch'eng. Shih Hsien was dismissed, exiled, and sent back to his home with his wife and son. On the way he would not eat because of worry, became ill, and died. The office of Palace Writer was abolished in order to keep eunuchs out of government affairs. Thereafter, eunuchs had little influence in the government until Later Han times.

An emperor with such a pitifully inadequate knowledge of human nature and of the governmental machinery as that displayed by Emperor Yüan can hardly be expected to have been an active force in government. He could only be pulled about by the various personalities who managed to get his attention. Emperor Yüan's reforms were accordingly not his own deeds, but the creations of the persons by whom he was surrounded, and even those achieved by Kung Yü were only enacted because Emperor Yüan's eunuch, Shih Hsien, for selfish reasons, assisted Kung Yü. Emperor Hsüan had disliked his Heir-apparent and had failed to train him in the business of government. Before his death, Emperor Hsüan had wanted to change his Heir, but was dissuaded. The untrained Emperor Yüan was little more than a dignified puppet in the hands of those around him.

Confucianism was thus a predisposing cause of the favoritism shown to imperial maternal relatives and of the very sordid influence wielded by eunuchs, and was both hampered and aided by that influence. Some Confucians dared to attack this eunuch influence and suffered death; other Confucians made peace with it as long as it was unassailable, but overthrew it as soon as the coming of another Emperor made successful attack feasible.

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