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Summary of the period
The short reign of Emperor Ai (7-1 B.C.) constituted a temporary eclipse to the power of the Wang clan and Wang Mang. The Emperor himself, a sickly young man, attempted to imitate the "strong" government of Emperor Wu, but only succeeded in becoming a tool, first of his grandmother and then of his favorite's family. As a result of the Emperor's attempt to rule in person, the period is full of intrigues: concerning the maternal relatives of the Emperor, concerning a certain revelation, and concerning Tung Hsien(2a). Attention is centered in the court; external events continued to be uneventful. The influence of Han Confucianism, which reached its apogee in the reign of Wang Mang, continued to grow. This introduction will deal with the events and forces necessary to understand the background of this chapter, matters which are not explained in the chapter itself (for further details, cf. the Onomasticon and Glossary). It, like the other imperial annals, is rather a chronological summary than what occidentals would call a history.
The intrigues of Emperor Ai's various maternal relatives
The reign of Emperor Ch'eng had fixed, as a dynastic practise, the Confucian principle of favoring imperial relatives (11: 4b). Relatives on the paternal side, who were potential rivals for the imperial throne, were given kingdoms or marquisates and were carefully watched. When Emperor Ai was continually ill, the Queen of King Yang of Tung-p'ing, Liu Yün(2a), an imperial fourth cousin, who was descended from Emperor Hsüan, was discovered to have made magical imprecations against the Emperor, with the purpose of bringing her husband to the imperial throne. She, her husband, and her uncle (who was an imperial physician) were executed and the informers were ennobled. Imperial paternal relatives, who might benefit from any harm done to the imperial person, were ordinarily kept away from the court and drastically repressed. The imperial power was thus left to the imperial maternal relatives.
Emperor Ai had however four sets of maternal relatives. The Wang clan's power rested upon the fact that the mother of Emperor Ch'eng, now entitled the Grand Empress Dowager nee Wang, was still alive. She was the Emperor's adoptive grandmother and the head of the imperial clan. Due to her influence, Wang Mang had been put in charge of the government as Comander-in-chief just five months before Emperor Ch'eng had died. The Chao clan owed its influence to Emperor Ch'eng's second wife, the famous Chao Fei-yen. Emperor Ai had nominally been made the son of Emperor Ch'eng; this lady was consequently the Emperor's adoptive mother and was now made the Empress Dowager. Her relatives were given noble titles and positions. Emperor Ai had in addition his own maternal relatives. His grandmother, the former imperial Brilliant Companion, now the Queen Dowager nee Fu, had been Emperor Yüan's favorite, and her son, Liu K'ang(1a), had become the King of Ting-t'ao. His son, Liu Hsin(5), now Emperor Ai, had been born of a Concubine nee Ting, so that there was also a Ting clan. The Fu and Ting clans, because they were out of the court, worked together, opposing the Wang clan, which had entrenched itself in the court. Thus the situation was ripe for abundant jealousies and intrigues.
The Chao clan was quickly eliminated. Within half a year, an industrious Director of the Retainers dug up the facts about Emperor Ch'eng's imperial infanticides (cf. HFHD, II, 369-72), which were due to Chao Fei-yen's younger sister. This sister had previously committed suicide, but, when the facts became known, they occasioned such a revulsion that her male relatives were all dismissed from their positions and titles and were exiled. Because of Emperor Ai's debt to the Empress Dowager nee Chao, she was not touched and retained her title. Without any male relatives in the court, she was helpless.
Before his death, Emperor Ch'eng had endeavored to prevent any conflict between the various clans among the maternal relatives of his successor by separating Liu Hsin(5), the future Emperor Ai, from his own family and restricting him to intercourse with the imperial family. Emperor Ch'eng appointed Lin Ching(3b), another descendant of Emperor Hsüan, as the King of Ting-t'ao, to be the successor of Emperor Ai's father, so that the new Emperor would not have any further obligation to his natural father's clan. When Liu Hsin(5) came to the capital as the Imperial Heir-apparent, Emperor Ch'eng separated him from his actual grandmother and mother, establishing them in the Lodge for the Princes of Ting-t'ao, while Liu Hsin(5) went to the Heir-apparent's palace. (We may perhaps see Wang Mang's hand in these moves.) Emperor Ch'eng was not even going to allow them to see Liu Hsin5, but the Empress Dowager nee Wang reminded her son that Liu Hsin(5) had been reared by his grandmother, so that the Queen Dowager should have the privileges given a nurse. She was accordingly allowed to visit her grandson every ten days.
The Queen Dowager nee Fu was an indomitable and high-tempered woman, who would not easily yield up her opportunity for power and prestige. She was capable in intrigue and had previously almost succeeded in having her son, Liu K'ang(1a), made the Imperial Heir-apparent in place of Emperor Ch'eng. She had taken her grandson away from his mother and had raised him herself, teaching and directing him, thus acquiring an ascendancy over him. She had paid large bribes to the Wang and Chao clans, in order that her grandson should be preferred as Heir-apparent over his cousin. Now she was not willing to lose the opportunity of reaping her reward.
After Emperor Ch'eng's death, the future Emperor Ai found himself without anyone in the court upon whom he could rely. It was filled with the adherents of the Wang and Chao clans. Four days before he took the throne, his maternal uncle, Ting Ming, and his maternal great-uncle, Fu(4) Yen, were enfeoffed as marquises. These ceremonies were performed by the Queen Dowager nee Fu, who had no real authority to do so (97 B: 20a). Since however these appointments would have been made anyway, this illegality was not challenged, although there was some disapproval of the Fu clan's greediness. Probably the Queen Dowager felt these appointments were essential, in order that the new Emperor would not be left without aid in the court; for an Emperor, without any courtiers to recommend what he wanted done, would be helpless. The visits of his grandmother were still limited to once every ten days, and his mother was also allowed to make such visits. The two ladies were established in Kuei Palace, in another part of the city, two miles distant. This palace was however connected by a private elevated passageway with Wei-yang Palace (where the Emperor lived), so that it was possible to go from one to the other without making a formal royal progress. The Queen Dowager nee Fu accordingly went morning and evening by this elevated passageway to the Emperor, instructing and advising him. A steadfast refusal of his grandmother's wishes would have been unthinkable, for it would have violated the Confucian principle of filial piety, in which all noble children were trained. Thereafter the Ting and Fu clans needed only to discover and report the faults of those who stood in their way, in order to achieve control over the court.
As soon as Emperor Ai came to the throne, the Empress Dowager nee Wang tactfully ordered Wang Mang, who had previously controlled the government, to resign. He did so, but Emperor Ai could not permit his predecessor's chief minister to resign immediately, for such an act would have implied that the new ruler would not filially continue the policies of his predecessor. So Wang Mang (who probably expected such a result and may have instigated the Empress Dowager's action) was continued in office.
Then strife arose concerning precedence between the Emperor's actual grandmother, the Queen Dowager nee Fu, and his nominal grandmother, the Grand Empress Dowager nee Wang. An official memorialized that, according to classical principles, a mother should receive honor when her son becomes honorable, so that the Emperor's mother should receive an imperial title. Shih(1) Tan and Wang Mang however opposed the proposal, and Emperor Ai did not want immediately to go contrary to the advice of his highest ministers, so let the matter drop. Instead of that, Emperor Ch'eng's old officials, who had been put in power by the Wang clan, were dropped one by one, being accused of some crime or other. When Wang Mang saw that he had incurred the enmity of the Queen Dowager nee Fu, he again asked to resign. This time he was allowed to do so and was asked to remain at the court with high honors, but no official post. Two years later he was sent away from the court to his estates. The Grand Empress Dowager nee Wang, who was not herself aggressive or interested in politics, was not interfered with. The titles of the Queen Dowager nee Fu and the Concubine nee Ting were raised.
Fu Hsi, a paternal cousin of the Queen Dowager and the ablest member of the Fu clan, succeeded Wang Mang as Commander-in-chief. When he opposed female influence in the government and refused to raise the titles of the Emperor's mother and grandmother still further, he too was dismissed from his position and sent away from the court. As one after another of the court officials were removed, the Emperor's mother and grandmother were given higher and higher titles, until there were four Empresses Dowager in the court: nee Wang, nee Chao, nee Fu, and nee Ting. The latter died in 5 B.C.; two years later the Empress Dowager nee Fu was at last given the same title as her former rival, the Grand Empress Dowager nee Wang; both ladies had borne sons to Emperor Yüan. The Grand Empress Dowager nee Fu had previously succeeded in legally murdering her other former rival for Emperor Yüan's favor, the Queen Dowager nee Feng of Chung-shan. This active and ambitious Empress Dowager thus triumphed over those who held to a strict construction of proprieties (the Confucians who had tried to prevent her elevation), but she died a year later. Meanwhile the clans of the Emperor's mother and grandmother had been highly honored: the Ting clan counted among its members two marquises, one Commander-in-chief, six generals, ministers, and officials ranking at two thousand piculs, and more than ten Palace Attendants and Division Heads. The Fu clan (including the Chang clan, that of the Empress Dowager nee Fu's half-brother) numbered among its members six marquises, two Commander-in-chiefs, six ministers or officials ranking at two thousand piculs, and more than ten Palace Attendants or Division Heads. These high officials of course distributed positions liberally to their henchmen and relatives. Thus a spoils system was put into full play in ancient China by the maternal relatives of the emperor.
Emperor Ai's strong rule and his execution of Wang Chia(1a)
In his government, Emperor Ai imitated Emperor Wu by not retaining any official in office for long, and by executing several of them. In this short period of six years, there were five Lieutenant Chancellors, seven Commanders-in-chief, and eleven Grandee Secretaries. Two Lieutenant Chancellors and one Grandee Secretary were executed. The most flagrant case was that of Wang Chia(1a) (not a member of Wang Mang's clan). He was an honest, self-respecting, and capable official, who opposed Emperor Ai's desire to advance and enrich his favorite, Tung Hsien(2a). When the treason of the Emperor's fourth cousin, Liu Yün(2a), was reported, Emperor Ai substituted the name of Tung Hsien(2a) for that of the person who had transmitted this information, thus obtaining an excuse for ennobling his favorite. Later the Emperor sent an order to the Lieutenant Chancellor and Grandee Secretary to make Tung Hsien(2a) a full marquis. These officials however knew the (unwritten) constitutional practise, that the Emperor can only act on the motion of his high ministers, and refused to make the necessary recommendations. The Emperor was thus blocked. But in a few months he issued an edict making this enfeoffment. Thus Emperor Ai, following the example of Emperor Wu, broke down this important provision in the Han constitution. When the Empress Dowager nee Fu died, Emperor Ai sent to these two highest ministers her testamentary edict, which ordered the granting of estates to her relatives and to Tung Hsien(2a). Wang Chia(1a) sealed and returned this edict to the Emperor, probably because he suspected that the name of Tung Hsien(2a) was a forgery, thus again blocking the Emperor. When the Commandant of Justice and others had investigated Liu Yün(2a), they concluded that this King was innocent, and ordered him tried again. Emperor Ai thought that they were trying to curry favor with the King, and dismissed them. A few months later there was a general amnesty, after which Wang Chia(1a) recommended the dismissed Commandant of Justice and his associates for official position. That was too much for Emperor Ai. He charged Wang Chia(1a) with having been unjust and with attempting to mislead the throne. The case was committed to the important courtiers. Some fifty, including K'ung Kuang, who then had high hopes of being again made Lieutenant Chancellor, supported the Emperor's charges; ten recommended mercy.
A century earlier, a high spirited noble would have taken poison rather than go to jail; but that chivalric age had passed. Wang Chia(1a) was a high-minded Confucian; his conscience was clear and he recognized that he had acted for the best interests of the state. He refused the poison his subordinates offered him and went to jail. Emperor Ai was angry that this stubborn minister should have thus again blocked his efforts to put him out of the way, and sent a committee of high officials to argue him down. But Wang Chia(1a) justified his actions and condemned Tung Hsien(2a) and his relatives as flatterers. The dismissed minister was starved in prison and died twenty days later. A prison sentence was then frequently merely a milder form of capital punishment than public execution. Martyrs for their moral convictions were not lacking among Han Confucians. After Emperor Ai's death, Wang Mang ordered Wang Chia(1a) listed as a faithful minister, restored his marquisate to his son, and gave him the posthumous name, Faithful (Marquis Chung).
Supernatural revelations influence governmental policy
This reign witnessed the appearance of revelations or oracle books (ch'an) that affected government policy. These revelations were a natural development from the Confucian practise of interpreting visitations and portents as having a meaning for government policies. The theory of the five powers as determining history was first elaborated by Tsou Yen (iv cent. B.C.), and became popular in Confucian circles through its appearance in the "Great Plan," which became a chapter in the Book of History. This theory had as one of its consequences the doctrine that dynasties rise and fall in accordance with the dominating power. After the Han dynasty had been on the throne for a century and its virtual collapse during the last years of Emperor Wu's reign, people accordingly began to speculate what would be the next dynasty. In 78 B.C., Kuei Hung, who had studied Tung Chung-shu's interpretation of the Kung-yang Commentary and who was then a minor court official, interpreted a portent as indicating the end of the Han dynasty and the appearance of a new dynasty with the surname Kung-yang. He was executed for treason, but speculation continued. One belief was that 3 x 70 = 210 years was the period a dynasty endured, which era, counting from 206 B.C., would end in A.D. 4 (cf. 99 A: n. 34.5). In the reign of Emperor Ch'eng, a certain Kan Chung-k'o from the Ch'i commandery wrote a book in twelve chapters, which he said was a revelation from a spirit named the Essence of the Red Lord (Ch'ih-ching-tzu), by whose power Emperor Kao had killed the serpent blocking his path (HS 1 A: 7a) and had seated his dynasty on the throne. In this book, Kan Chung-k'o evidently reasoned, on a calendrical basis, that the Han dynasty, if it was to continue, must again receive a mandate from Heaven, and asserted that the Essence of the Red Lord had come down to teach the dynasty how to secure this mandate. Kan Chung-k'o was thus supporting the Han dynasty against interpretations like that of Kuei Hung. Kan Chung-k'o's book seems to have been the first of the "revelations." (Kuei Hung was later said to have written a book of revelations, which did not appear until the first century A.D., when a pretender surnamed Kung-sun appeared, so that this book was probably a forgery.) Liu Hsiang(4a) had been asked by Emperor Ch'eng to report on the correctness of this revelation. He had memorialized that this doctrine was not classical, and was an attempt to deceive the Emperor and to mislead the crowd. Kan Chung-k'o was imprisoned, tortured, and died; his disciples were dismissed from office.
When it was discovered that Emperor Ch'eng had killed his own infant sons, thus leaving himself without a natural heir, and when sundry portents occurred, people came increasingly to feel that the Han dynasty had actually decayed. This opinion was confirmed by the fact that Emperor Ai was continually ill, with some disease like arthritis, and also that he had no natural heir. He was told about Kan Chung-k'o's revelation. The matter was submitted to Liu Hsiang(4a)'s son, Liu Hsin(1a), who again condemned the doctrine as unclassical. Other courtiers, however, supported this new teaching, and Emperor Ai summoned Kan Chung-k'o's chief disciples to several audiences. They told the Emperor that he should change the year-period and take a new title, whereby he would secure lengthened life and an heir, as well as freedom from his illness, etc. On July 13, 5 B.C., he followed their advice, taking new, long, and flowery names.
A month later, the bearers of the revelation, emboldened by their success, proposed further changes. They now said that the highest ministers should be dismissed, and those courtiers who had supported the revelation should be given the vacant positions. That was too much for the ministers. Emperor Ai's illness had not improved, so that the supporters of the revelation could not point to any verification of their promises. The Emperor was persuaded that the revelation was groundless; he rescinded his edict and committed Kan Chung-k'o's disciples to the officials; these disciples were sentenced for having deceived the Emperor, an inhuman crime, and were executed. This incident marks the first important influence upon government policies by revelations, which were to play such a large part in the reign of Wang Mang and later times.
The popular cult of the Mother Queen of the West
The popular excitement in the spring and summer of 3 B.C., connected with the worship of the Mother Queen of the West (Hsi-wang-mu), deserves careful notice. Unfortunately we know little about it; all the relevant passages are to be found in the text and notes under this date. The Mother Queen of the West figures in ancient Chinese legends and grave-sculptures before and after this date. She was then supposed to be an immortal, dwelling in the far western K'un-lun Mountains, in a grotto inside a metal house in a stone city, and to have three green birds who brought her food to this desert place. She had a human body, a leopard's tail, tiger's teeth, which latter were good for whistling, and brilliant white tangled hair, in which she wore a peculiar high jade hair-ornament. She was probably now represented as offering to her devotees a means of escaping death from starvation and becoming as immortal as she was.
This incident seems to have been a soteriological religion promising immortality, in many respects similar to the Bacchic religion of ancient Greece. The drought brought it popularity. The present Shantung, where it started, is still susceptible to this sort of ecstatic, revivalistic religious agitation. It did not affect the bureaucracy or court, hence is merely mentioned in the History as a curious incident, a portent requiring explanation.
Tung Hsien(2a)'s meteoric rise and fall
The rise of Tung Hsien(2a) shows how far a completely worthless person could go by imperial favor. He was merely a handsome and pliable lad in the Heir-apparent's suite, who was made a Gentleman when Emperor Ai came to the throne, and became the Emperor's catamite. He was promoted from one post to another, all the while continuing in personal attendance upon the Emperor. In the course of ten months, he had accumulated a hundred million cash in grants and rewards. When he did not leave the Palace on the regular days for vacation, the Emperor arranged that Tung Hsien(2a)'s wife might enter the palace inner apartments, with the result that his wife and children lived there. The Emperor took Tung Hsien(2a)'s younger sister as a Brilliant Companion, giving her the rank next to the Empress. Tung Hsien(2a), his wife, or his sister were continually in attendance upon the Emperor. His father was made a minister and noble; his father-in-law and brother were given court positions; a large and splendid residence was built for him just outside the palace portal and a splendid burial place was prepared beside the imperial tomb. Jewels and weapons were given him from the palace workshops, even better ones than those the Emperor secured. By an imperial forgery, he was given a marquisate and an estate. When Wang Chia(1a) opposed this proposed enfeoffment. he was removed and finally executed.
The Emperor's maternal uncle, Ting Ming, was Commander-in-chief, and he too disapproved of Tung Hsien(2a). Emperor Ai dismissed this minister and also retired Fu(4) Yen, the imperial great-uncle. Thus the Emperor's infatuation with a boy led him to break with both his own maternal clans. He was thus left without any loyal followers in the court except the Tung clan. The latter clan contained no one of ability. It seems not to have been interested in politics except to enrich itself. Tung Hsien(2a) was finally made Commander-in-chief, the controlling position in the ministry, although he was only in his twenty-second year. His younger brother was given Tung Hsien(2a)'s former position and the whole Tung clan were made Palace Attendants, Division Chiefs, etc., receiving greater favors than had even been bestowed upon the Emperor's maternal clans. The Emperor seems even to have come to believe that the Han dynasty, because of the succession of the elements, must inevitably be soon succeeded by a different dynasty (cf. Ku Chieh-Kang, Ku-shih-pien, V, 465-77). Once, at a feast, the Emperor even calmly talked about resigning the throne to his favorite. Wang Hung, a cousin of Wang Mang, happened to be in attendance. He immediately remonstrated, telling the Emperor that the empire was no plaything, for it had been received from his ancestors and must be transmitted to his descendants, thus invoking the Confucian exaltation of filial piety. Emperor Ai was plainly displeased, at which circumstance the imperial attendants were frightened and Wang Hung left the room. Thus imperial infatuation was carried to the extreme.
When Emperor Ai died suddenly without an heir and without having appointed a successor, his mother and grandmother had previously died and his maternal relatives had been deprived of their positions, possibly because the Emperor continued to hope that Tung Hsien(2a) would inaugurate a new dynasty. But the latter was wholly incapable of doing so, even though he possessed the imperial seals of office. The imperial authority naturally reverted to the Grand Empress Dowager nee Wang, the senior of the two surviving Empress Dowagers. During his last years, after Emperor Ai had broken with his maternal clans, he had begun recalling the Confucians whom he had displaced from their positions when he took the throne. At this time Wang Mang had been praised by those who took the civil service examinations, so that he had been recalled to the capital and had been there during the last year of Emperor Ai's reign, without however being given a post.
On the day of the imperial death, the Grand Empress Dowager, who probably had previously been instructed what to do, immediately went to the emperor's palace and collected the imperial seals of state. Thereby she took to herself the imperial authority. She then asked Tung Hsien(2a) about the regulations for imperial mourning, which he, as the highest minister, would be required to conduct. The young man was distraught and in all likelihood completely ignorant of such matters, so could only beg her pardon. She remarked that Wang Mang had previously conducted the mourning for Emperor Ch'eng and sent a messenger galloping to summon him.
Wang Mang, like most of the other courtiers, could not endure Tung Hsien(2a). The latter was now impeached for negligence in caring for the Emperor and imprisoned in the palace. He had no influential friends outside of his own clan. Wang Mang then told the Grand Empress Dowager that public opinion disapproved of the favorite. The day after the emperor died, Wang Mang had her order Tung Hsien(2a) dismissed from his position and sent to his residence. The latter and his relatives were so frightened that, on the same day, both he and his wife committed suicide in order to save the rest of their clan. The two were buried that same night. The whole Tung clan were dismissed from their positions and exiled, and their wealth sold. It amounted to 4,300,000,000 cash. Tung Hsien(2a)'s body was exhumed, stripped, and reburied meanly. Thus the imperial favorite received his reward.
The influence of Confucianism
During this period, the influence of Confucianism continued unabated. The high officials continued to be Confucians. Learned men were recommended for the highest posts. There came indeed to be two parties in the imperial court: the Fu and Ting clans, who defended their positions and sought wealth and influence, and the Confucians (to whom Wang Mang belonged), who comprised the bulk of the bureaucracy and stood for a strict construction of court proprieties and for moral ideals. In spite of this division, Confucian influence continued to be strong, for the imperial maternal relatives owed their influence to the Confucian teaching of favoring one's relatives, hence, even when they dismissed the Confucians from high office, they continued to cultivate Confucianism and favor those Confucians who would accord with them. There was no thought, on the part of any important personage, of changing from Confucianism to any other philosophy.
K'ung Kuang, a lineal descendant of Confucius and one of the great scholars of the empire, was installed as Lieutenant Chancellor on the day Emperor Ch'eng died; he was dismissed in two years, because he opposed the raising of the Empress Dowager nee Fu's title. Three years later, he was recalled to court when she died, and was soon reappointed to his old post. He had meanwhile learned to be more pliable to the Emperor's wishes, lending his consent to the condemnation of Wang Chia1a and treating Tung Hsien(2a) deferentially. A very learned Confucian who was at the same time a lineal descendant of Confucius could not be neglected, for such a person would be an ornament to any Chinese court. The post of Commander-in-chief, which actually dominated the government, was, however, except for brief intervals, kept in the hands of imperial relatives or of the imperial favorite, Tung Hsien(2a). Through his concurrent position as Intendant of the Affairs of the Masters of Writing, the Commander-in-chief controlled the most important source of imperial information. Under Emperor Ai, this control was not as important as previously, for the Empress Dowager nee Fu and Tung Hsien(2a) both had direct access of the imperial person. Thus Confucian influence, while important, was partly checked by the imperial maternal relatives and favorite.
Confucian influence also showed itself in certain reforms. The practise of mourning for a parent to the third year was revived (cf. App. I). An attempt was made to restrict the amount of land and slaves one person could own (11: 2b, 3a). This edict was however tabled because the imperial maternal relatives and favorite found it inconvenient. At the same time certain imperial ateliers were abolished and a few other humanitarian laws were enacted (11: 3a, b). A new ruler was expected to show his devotion to Confucian principles in his government, and reforms such as these were enacted because Confucians urged them. The Wang clan, not to be outdone, distributed its private fields to the poor people (11: 4a); but this does not mean that they gave up the estates from which their income as marquises was derived---their estates were government, not private fields. Their generosity was probably limited to their lands near the capital, rents from which (at least part of which were paid in grain) would be more convenient for a court official than income from distant estates in the provinces. Wang Mang may have foreseen that he would eventually be exiled from the court; this generous gift aided greatly in inducing people to urge the recall of Wang Mang, four years later.
A temporary rectification of high official titles, following classical models
The most interesting effect of Confucianism was the change of official titles---a phenomenon that became pronounced under Wang Mang. A cardinal Confucian principle was the imitation of ancient practises. About 8 B.C., Ho Wu, who was then Grandee Secretary, memorialized that in ancient times, when life was simple, government business was divided among the three highest ministers (San-kung), whereas now, when there were not available officials who had as great ability as those of ancient times, the duties of the three ancient highest ministers were concentrated in the hands of the Lieutenant Chancellor. He suggested the appointment of the three highest ministers as in ancient times (83: 13b). Emperor Ch'eng asked Chang Yü(3a), a retired Lieutenant Chancellor and Confucian, about the matter; the latter agreed, whereupon the title of Grandee Secretary was changed to Grand Minister of Works, and he was given the same salary and rank as the Lieutenant Chancellor and Commander-in-chief. There probably was at the same time also a division of responsibility, so that some of the Lieutenant Chancellor's duties were given to the Grand Minister of Works.
But many who discussed the matter said that ancient and present times required different institutions and that the Han official titles, from that of the Emperor down to that of the Accessory Officials, were different from those of ancient times, so that a change in merely the titles and duties of the three highest officials would make no difference in the quality of the government (83: 14a). After the Confucian Ho Wu had been dismissed for lack of filial piety, and Chu Po, an adherent of the Fu clan, became Grand Minister of Works, he memorialized that dynasties do not need to imitate one another, that when Emperor Kao received the Mandate of Heaven to found the Han dynasty, he had established a Grandee Secretary as second in rank to the Lieutenant Chancellor and had given him the duty of correcting the laws and institutes, with the result that the empire had now been calm for two centuries. Hence the change of Grandee Secretary to Grand Minister of Works would not secure the blessing of Heaven. So he recommended that titles be changed back again (83: 14b). Emperor Ai accordingly made the change, and in 5 B.C. installed Chu Po as Grandee Secretary.
The Han dynasty had adopted the practise of the Ch'in dynasty in dividing the country into counties (hsien) and grouping these into commanderies (chün), each containing about a dozen prefectures or more, over which there was set a Commandery Administrator to act as satrap of the region, usually with the rank of two thousand piculs. In 106 B.C., Emperor Wu had grouped these commanderies into thirteen divisions or provinces (chou), and appointed to each province an Inspector of a Regional Division (Pu-tz'u-shih), with the rank of six hundred piculs, whose business it was to make the circuit of his commanderies and report any irregularities. Feudal kingdoms (which later became smaller than commanderies) were governed by a Chancellor (Hsiang), who was appointed by the imperial court, so that there had come to be little difference, outside of titles, between the government of commanderies and of kingdoms. Both were supervised by the same Inspectors.
In 8 B.C., Ho Wu memorialized that this Han practise was contrary to Confucian classical principles, according to which the superior should govern the inferior, not the reverse. So he had Emperor Ch'eng change the Inspectors to Provincial Shepherds (Chou-mu), a title taken from the Book of History, and rank them at fully two thousand piculs, so that their rank should be higher than that of Administrators.
Two years later (6 B.C.), Chu Po however pointed out that when Inspectors ranked lower than Administrators, the former had been stimulated to activity by the hope of being promoted to be one of the 103 Administrators or Chancellors, so that an efficient Inspector had had lively hopes of promotion. But when these officials became Shepherds and were given a high rank, they had available for promotion only the dozen ministerial positions at the imperial court. Consequently they lost their incentive to activity; the better ones merely guarded themselves for fear of committing a fault and sullying their record, while the wicked ones were unrestrained, since there was no one to watch them. Local administrations were consequently left without supervision and government degenerated. So Chu Po recommended the abolition of Shepherds and the restoration of the Inspectors. This change was made in 5 B.C. Thus the practical bureaucrat showed more wisdom than the Confucian. One of the reasons for the inefficiency of Wang Mang's provincial administration was undoubtedly that he reestablished Provincial Shepherds in order to accord with classical Confucian ideas.
When an eclipse of the sun happened on a New Year's day (Feb. 5, 2 B.C.), followed within a month by the death of the Empress Dowager nee Fu, Emperor Ai was deeply impressed, and in that very month summoned K'ung Kuang back to court, asking him to explain the portent. The latter said that government matters had not been right and should be reformed (81: 19a-20a). Since the Emperor's grandmother was no longer alive and the Emperor had broken with his maternal clans, while the Tung clan showed no disposition to interfere in government policies, Emperor Ai turned to the Confucians again, recalling those whom he had dismissed at the beginning of his reign. When, a year later, a second solar eclipse occurred, Emperor Ai interpreted it as a warning and, through Confucian influence, restored the arrangement under which government control was divided among the three ancient highest ministers. In the scholastic interest of uniformity, a new title was also given to the Lieutenant Chancellor, and these three officials were now entitled Ta-szu-t'u (Grand Minister Over the Masses), Ta-szu-ma (Commander-in-chief), and Ta-szu-k'ung (Grand Minister of Works). This arrangement did not last long, for Emperor Ai died within a month and in the next year Wang Mang changed these titles again. The change is however interesting as showing that the tendency to change titles and to adopt ancient phraseology and ancient governmental arrangements was inherent in Han Confucianism, and that Wang Mang merely took it from that powerful current of influence.
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|Published by The Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, © Copyright 2003 by Anne Kinney and the University of Virginia|