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Summary of the period
The reign of Emperor P'ing (1 B.C.-A.D. 6), is the period during which Wang Mang consolidated his control of the government in such a fashion that he could not later be removed. Emperor P'ing was only in his ninth year when he came to the throne and he died before he was capped (the ceremony marking the attainment of a youth's majority), so that during this whole period Wang Mang actually wielded the imperial authority. He eliminated the influence of any imperial relatives, except his own clan. He raised himself from one honor to another by the ingenious use of Confucian humility. He married his daughter to the Emperor, against the opposition of the Grand Empress Dowager. He secured the loyal cooperation of Confucians, especially the famous Liu Hsin(1a). This period was thus one of conspicuous success on the part of Wang Mang. After Emperor P'ing had died, Wang Mang was charged with regicide, but that allegation may have been merely propaganda. These matters will be discussed seriatim.
The nature of this "Annals"
This chapter, like the other "Imperial Annals," does not pretend to be what we would call a history of the period. It is actually an expanded chronological summary, useful for purposes of convenient reference. The actual history is to be found in the other parts of this large book, especially in the "Memoirs," and most of all in the "Memoir of Wang Mang," a translation of which is appended to this chapter. The part of that "Memoir" devoted to these six years is more than twice as long as are these "Imperial Annals." That "Memoir" should accordingly be read in connection with these "Imperial Annals."
Wang Mang's orderly solution of a dynastic crisis
This reign began with a dynastic crisis, for at the death of Emperor Ai there was no heir to the throne. Emperor Wen had established the dynastic practice that the reigning Emperor designates one of his sons as his successor by making him Heir-apparent (4: 5b-6b). Emperor Ai however had no sons and appointed no Heir-apparent. There were, moreover, no living descendants of his predecessor, Emperor Ch'eng. Fortunately such a crisis had occurred twice before in Han Times: at the death of the Empress Dowager nee Lü and at the death of Emperor Chao. Each time the high officials had deliberated over the matter and had selected the nearest suitable relative of the deceased monarch. Ho Kuang had legitimized his choices of emperors by enacting them in imperial edicts issued by the Empress Dowager. Wang Mang followed this precedent: he selected the grandson and only surviving descendant of Emperor Yüan, Liu Chi-tzu, a first cousin of Emperor Ai, and enthroned him. This boy was only in his ninth year, so could not rule in person; the Grand Empress Dowager nee Wang, his step-grandmother, who, as the "mother of the dynasty" and regent, had been ruling for the two months between the death and the enthronement, continued to attend court and decide matters. She entrusted the government to Wang Mang, her grand-nephew, who was now in his forty-fifth year.
Wang Mang's revenge upon Emperor Ai's maternal relatives
Before the new Emperor was enthroned, Wang Mang began his revenge upon Emperor Ai's maternal relatives, who had previously turned Wang Mang out of power and out of the court. The Empress Dowagers nee Fu and nee Ting had both died; the only lady remaining of their clans was the Empress nee Fu of Emperor Ai. She had had no children, so Wang Mang had the Grand Empress Dowager issue an edict commanding the Empress to retire to another palace, because of the crimes of her elder cousin, the deceased Empress Dowager nee Fu. Some months later she was dismissed from her rank and made a commoner, whereupon she committed suicide. At the death of Emperor Ai, the Fu and Ting clans possessed no male relatives who could intercede with the ruler for them, hence these clans became helpless. Fu Yen, the brother of the Empress Dowager, was dismissed from his marquisate and exiled to Ho-p'u Commandery, in the southernmost peninsula of the present Kuangtung. The members of the Ting clan were sent back to their natal commanderies. The Grand Empress Dowager nee Fu and the Empress Dowager nee Ting were posthumously degraded in their titles and merely entitled the Mother (nee Fu) of King Kung of Ting-t'ao and the [Royal] Concubine nee Ting. In 5 A.D., Wang Mang argued the Grand Empress Dowager nee Wang into permitting him to have the tombs of these two ladies opened, their official seals taken away and destroyed, the body of the lady nee Fu transported from the capital to Ting-t'ao, and to have them both reburied in simple wooden coffins, like concubines (which had been their original rank). Their tumuli were levelled and thorns were planted at these places. Wang Mang did not forget an injury.
The Empress Dowager nee Chao was degraded and removed from the imperial palace at the same time as was the Empress nee Fu. This famous beauty, Chao Fei-yen, was the sister of the Favorite Beauty nee Chao, who had been responsible for Emperor Ch'eng's infanticides. She would have been punished for her sister's crimes when they were discovered at the beginning of Emperor Ai's reign, except for the fact that Emperor Ai was indebted to her. Wang Mang was not so indebted, and had her removed to the palace for dismissed empresses. She was later dismissed from her title, whereupon she too committed suicide.
The dynastic principle that there should be only one imperial line of descent
Probably Wang Mang's motive in removing these ladies was not merely revenge, but also to eliminate the evil effect of imperial maternal relatives in the court. He was not willing to yield up his power to a new clan. The moral corruption, extravagance, and misuse of the government to enrich themselves on the part of the Wang and Chao clans in the reign of Emperor Ch'eng and of the Fu and Ting clans in the reign of Emperor Ai had convinced many intelligent persons that imperial maternal relatives were injurious to the state. When, at the death of Emperor Ai, the Grand Empress Dowager nee Wang asked the ministers to recommend someone to control the government, the General of the Van, Ho Wu, and the General of the Left, Kung-sun Lu, had both become convinced that the government should be in the hands of neither the imperial clan nor of any imperial maternal clan. They therefore independently recommended each other for the post of Commander-in-chief. But this policy was contrary to the Confucian moral principle that people generally (including the ruler) should favor their relatives, and the circumstance that these two ministers recommended each the other proved fatal. The other ministers all recommended Wang Mang, who was accordingly given the position. Wang Mang had Ho Wu and Kung-sun Lu accused of plotting to advance each other; they were dismissed and sent to their homes. Four years later Ho Wu was arrested in connection with the affair of Wang Yü, whereupon Ho Wu committed suicide.
Because of his unhappy experience with the Fu and Ting clans, Wang Mang did not even allow the new Emperor's mother, the Concubine nee Wei, nor her relatives to come to the imperial capital. The Wei clan had previously been connected with the imperial court: it had furnished Emperors Hsüan and Yüan each with a Favorite Beauty, who bore each a child, as well as furnishing a concubine for Emperor Ch'eng's half-brother. This latter girl was the mother of Liu Chi-tzu, Emperor P'ing. Wang Mang evidently feared the power of such a clan, which knew well the customs in the imperial court and had old connections in the capital.
Instead of allowing this Wei clan to repeat the exploits of the Fu clan, Wang Mang had its members all kept in the kingdom of Chung-shan, where Liu Chi-tzu had been King. His intention was to establish the principle that there is only one imperial family, and that when, because of the failure of a natural heir, some scion from another branch of the imperial clan was elevated to the throne, this person should become exclusively a member of the imperial family, so that his own close relatives must not be considered close imperial relatives or treated as such. Thus the number of imperial maternal relatives, who might interfere in the government, was to be restricted (and the Wang clan continued in power without any rivals). Emperor Ch'eng had attempted to put this principle in force just before his death (possibly at the instigation of Wang Mang), but Emperor Ai, through the influence of his grandmother, had rejected and acted contrary to it.
Wang Mang appointed another scion of the imperial clan as King of Chung-shan to act as the son of Liu Chi-tzu's father, and sent to his mother, the Concubine nee Wei, a royal seal and cord, installing her as the Queen of King Hsiao of Chung-shan, with a whole county as her private estate, from which she received the income. Her uncle and younger brother were both made Marquises of the Imperial Domain, and her three younger sisters were given the title of Baronetess, with an estate of two thousand households. Her first cousin was made Queen to the new King of Chung-shan. But honor and wealth would not make up to her for her absent son. Unlike the Concubine nee Ting, who, without objecting, allowed her son, Emperor Ai, to be taken from her, the Queen nee Wei was said to be disconsolate, weeping day and night for her child, who had no near relative by him to guard or care for him.
Wang Yü, Wang Mang's eldest son, disapproved of his father's policy. He was afraid that there would come to be a feud between the Wei and Wang clans, which would be disastrous to the Wang clan when the new Emperor came of age. Wang Yü secretly communicated with the Wei clan, urging them to ask permission to come to the imperial court. Wang Yü's clique furthermore attempted to terrify Wang Mang into acceding to their request by playing upon his superstition with false portents (99 A: 16a, b). When the matter was discovered (A.D. 3), Wang Mang had his son executed, together with the Wei clan and hundreds of others. Only Liu Chi-tzu's mother was left alive, retaining her title and estate. When Wang Mang usurped the throne, she was dismissed from her title and made a commoner; a year or so later she died. Thus Wang Mang was left unchallenged in control of the imperial court.
The nature of Wang Mang's position and power
During the reign of Emperor P'ing, Wang Mang was not the legal ruler of the state, but merely its most important minister. He was the Commander-in-chief and Intendant of Affairs of the Masters of Writing, who could be dismissed at will by the actual regent, the Grand Empress Dowager nee Wang. By this time, the Commander-in-chief concerned himself little with the army; this official had become the dominating minister in the civil government. He made appointments in the bureaucracy, cited officials for promotion or demotion, proposed governmental policies, and acted as chief consultant to the ruler. The other ministers had become for the most part virtual executive officers to the Commander-in-chief. The latter's authority over the other ministers was exercised by memorializing the throne that they be ordered to execute certain policies, and then advising the throne to consent to the proposal. Since the rejection of an important official's advice in an important matter meant that this official must resign or be dismissed, a great official was consequently often reluctant to offer advice, and, when asked to do so, often allowed less important members of the court to propose the policy he favored. At the same time, this custom made the throne very reluctant to refuse an important minister's advice, since the throne might find it difficult to discover another person who would be as suitable as the dismissed minister. Thus a minister could sometimes compel the throne to accept an unwelcome policy. On the other hand, under an aggressive ruler, ministers could frequently be dismissed and sometimes punished for offering suggestions that were unpleasant to the throne. Thus Wang Mang could wield the imperial power, even though he was not actually the regent.
The Grand Empress Dowager nee Wang had no taste for ruling; she was a quiet old lady, who upheld the best traditions of Chinese wifely virtue, being loyal to her husband and her relatives, complaisant to her husband's relatives, going her own quiet way without interfering with others. She had originally supported Wang Mang in 8 B.C. because her brother, Wang Ken, had recommended him as Commander-in-chief. But she was not altogether blind to his faults, and did not trust him completely. Since she was a woman, she was immured in her palace, and Wang Mang saw to it that only those favorable to him had access to her. Thus she was brought around to accede to his plans.
How Wang Mang established himself securely and obtained a following
Wang Mang's gradual rise in power and popularity is so well recounted in his "Memoir" that it is unnecessary to repeat it here. It will be sufficient to point out the steps he took and the general principles upon which he operated, stressing nuances that may not be so clear to a casual reader and mentioning facts not found in these two chapters.
When Wang Mang was first put into power, he took care to surround himself with people whom he could influence. The pliant K'ung Kuang, a descendant of Confucius, had been Grand Minister Over the Masses and had recommended Wang Mang to the Grand Empress Dowager. Wang Mang treated him respectfully, retained him in office, and promoted his son-in-law, Chen Han, who later became one of Wang Mang's intimate followers. Wang Mang also attached Wang Shun4b to himself, because the latter was loved and trusted by the Grand Empress Dowager. This man was a son of the Grand Empress Dowager's first cousin who had been the Commander-in-chief, Wang Yin. Then Wang Mang proceeded to get rid of his possible opponents.
The person whose influence with the Grand Empress Dowager Wang Mang most feared was Wang Li(5a), who was own half-brother to her and her closest living relative. There was also her nephew, Wang Jen, a son of Wang T'an(2b), another half-brother of the Grand Empress Dowager. Wang Jen bore the same relationship to her that Wang Mang did. Both Wang Li(5a) and Wang Jen were courageous and plain-speaking; as close relatives they had access to her, so that Wang Mang needed to remove them in order to establish his own power securely. Wang Li(5a) was perhaps the worst reprobate in the Wang clan, so much so that he had been passed over when, in the reign of Emperor Ch'eng, the post of Commander-in-chief had been passed about among the brothers of the Grand Empress Dowager. Wang Mang prepared a petition to the Grand Empress Dowager, enumerating the crimes of Wang Li5a and Wang Jen, and had Chen Han take it to K'ung Kuang, with the request that he memorialize those matters in his own name. K'ung Kuang was timid and did not like to refuse, so did as he was told. Wang Mang liked to act by indirection; he would hint to his followers what he wanted done and allow them to propose these matters for action. Then he could approve or disapprove as the circumstances dictated and yet not seem to have been taking the initiative.
When the petition regarding Wang Li(5a) and Wang Jen reached the Grand Empress Dowager, Wang Mang advised her to assent to it. When she did not want to part with her last independent sources of information, Wang Mang insisted, putting her in the position of either having to reject K'ung Kuang and himself or send away her brother and nephew. She yielded, and thus gave herself into the control of Wang Mang. Three years later, Wang Mang involved Wang Li(5a) and Wang Jen in the affair of Wang Yü, and compelled them both to commit suicide.
Thus Wang Mang, partly by persuasion and partly by a relentless use of the governmental power, eliminated any possible rivals. He filled the court with his own followers, eliminating all who would oppose him. Most of the bureaucracy willingly followed Wang Mang. He was the legal deputy of the imperial power; the custom of delegating the imperial power to the outstanding imperial maternal relative had regularly been practised for half a century, consequently it may be said to have become part of the (unwritten) constitution. The people had been trained to follow the imperial authority, so that any reforms, short of a rebellion, had to be authenticated by the emperor. Power and wealth lay in the giving of Wang Mang, hence few officials were willing to refuse his leadership. Only a very few of the more squeamish officials, in particular the Grand Minister of Works, P'eng Hsün, and his successor, Wang Ch'ung(2b), were willing to sacrifice their careers because of their dislike for the way Wang Mang was doing things. These two in succession asked to resign. They had not actually opposed Wang Mang and were respected by intelligent people, so he had to allow them to go. But he disliked their leaving and refused to bestow upon them the parting gifts customarily given at the resignation of an honored official. They could merely retire from the court to their homes and keep quiet about their opinions. Wang Mang distributed noble titles and positions liberally to his loyal followers and was praised on all sides.
How Wang Mang secured unprecedented honors and popularity
No sooner had Wang Mang established his followers in the bureaucracy than he proceeded to seek for fame and popular support. The method he employed was an ingenious use of a Confucian principle: the virtue of yielding to others. He induced his followers to demand certain honors for him from the throne and then systematically refused those honors. The custom of first refusing great honors had long been used. Emperor Kao refused the throne thrice when it was offered to him (Mh II, 380). Emperor Wen refused it five times (HS 4: 4a). Emperor Ai thought it best to refuse at first (11: 1b). Wang Mang excelled them all in humility by refusing, not at merely five times, but firmly and stubbornly.
Confucian tradition contained the statement that when the Duke of Chou, so honored by Confucius and his followers, was regent for the infant King Ch'eng, someone from the Yüeh-shang brought a white pheasant as tribute. Wang Mang, who in his youth had made a thorough study of Confucianism and its traditions, had the officials in the southernmost Chinese commandery reminded of this fact, and, at the first New Year's court of the new reign, some persons who called themselves Yüeh-shang accordingly appeared with an albino pheasant. No Chinese or member of the Office for Interpreting (Yi-guan) at the court could understand their language, so that it had to be translated by a succession of interpreters before it could be rendered into Chinese. To such distant regions had Wang Mang's virtue penetrated!
It made quite a stir at the court. The Confucians were pleased to recognize this obscure tradition, and the courtiers likened Wang Mang to Ho Kuang, who had so nobly conducted the dynasty through the minority of Emperors Chao and Hsüan, and to the Duke of Chou himself. Thus was confirmed Mencius' statement (IV, B, i, 3) that at intervals of a thousand years, like sages appear. When the Grand Empress Dowager hinted her suspicions, the courtiers had the opportunity of lauding Wang Mang to the skies, and proposed that Wang Mang should be given the title of Duke Giving Tranquillity to the Han Dynasty. At that time, the two highest existing noble titles were King and Marquis. The title of king was given only to sons of emperors and their heirs who succeeded them. Outside the Liu clan there were no kings. The Han dynasty had not previously enfeoffed any dukes, so that this title elevated Wang Mang above all the other nobles except the dozen-odd kings. When Wang Mang insistently refused this honor, keeping to his bed in order to avoid it, and the petitioners insisted that it should be granted to him, the Grand Empress Dowager was advised and forced to do as Wang Mang had planned: to grant high honors to Wang Mang's associates, K'ung Kuang, Wang Shun(4b), Chen Feng, and Chen Han, and then to grant still higher honors to Wang Mang, before he could be induced to rise and accept his title. He still however refused some of her grants, and advised her instead to bestow titles and grants upon members of the imperial clan and common people. Thus Wang Mang, by the simple device of obdurantly refusing honors, was enabled, without seeming to take the initiative, to secure important grants for his followers and also to avoid the jealousy of the imperial clan and people by having additional grants bestowed upon them. A more effective means to popularity could hardly have been found.
When this scheme had been so successful, Wang Mang sought for plenary power in the government. He again hinted his desires to his associates. At their suggestions, the Grand Empress Dowager, who did not want to be disturbed by the details of government, easily granted to Wang Mang full authority to decide all except the most important matters, such as enfeoffments to noble titles. She probably thought that this grant would make no practical difference in the government. Thus Wang Mang controlled the whole administration by right as well as in practise. He responded by having the Grand Empress Dowager make a great grant to the poor people and then lauding her extravagantly for it.
In order to make himself a close relative of the reigning emperor, thus securing his position in case the Grand Empress Dowager should die, Wang Mang next planned to marry his daughter to the boy Emperor. Again he proceeded by indirection. He first proposed that the Emperor be married, in order that the imperial line be continued. The Grand Empress Dowager agreed, and ordered the presentation of suitable girls. It was the custom that the mother of the Emperor should choose his wife. The Grand Empress Dowager, who was the young Emperor's legal mother, did not approve of her nephew too whole-heartedly; Wang Mang was afraid that she would pass over his own daughter, so called attention to this girl by publicly refusing to offer her under a plea of humility. The Grand Empress Dowager really opposed the match in her heart and seems to have thought it would be a good thing to check his growing power by putting another clan in power, for she issued an edict withdrawing all girls of the Wang clan from the competition.
But Wang Mang had become too popular. His daughter was of the right age; he outranked all other nobles in the empire, except those of the Liu clan, whose daughters could not be espoused because they bore the same surname as the Emperor; and he had acquired a great fame through his distribution of favors and grants to the people. It was then the custom that any one could come to the imperial palace and present petitions advising the ruler. Many families of those who hoped to enter the bureaucracy had moved to the capital commanderies, in order to study at the Imperial University or with the many Confucian masters who had congregated there, so that there was probably a larger proportion of literate persons in that region than elsewhere in the empire. These people hoped to attract the attention of the ministers and so attain office. Since Wang Mang controlled the giving of offices, and the proposal suited them, these people crowded to the portals of the Grand Empress Dowager at the rate of more than a thousand a day, offering petitions which protested that the daughter of Wang Mang was the most suitable person to be made the Empress. The ministers and grandees prostrated themselves in her courts, making similar requests. Wang Mang politely sent his personal attendants to turn them away, but the petitioners naturally paid no attention. Thus popular opinion, mobilized by Wang Mang's refusal, forced the Grand Empress Dowager to discontinue the competition among the girls and select Wang Mang's daughter. The other families were placated by selecting eleven of their girls as imperial concubines. It was an outstanding victory of intrigue, directed by a master mind, in which Wang Mang completely outmaneuvered his great-aunt.
There was a Confucian tradition that in Chou times, when the Son of Heaven took a wife from a noble whose state was small, the Son of Heaven augmented that noble's fief to be at least a hundred li square, i.e., nine million mou or over four hundred thousand acres. A sycophant marquis of the Liu clan accordingly memorialized that Wang Mang's fief should be augmented to that size, and the courtiers added that he should be given two hundred million cash as a betrothal present. He declined both presents, accepting only forty million cash, and distributing most of that among the new imperial concubines. Then the courtiers said that he had not received enough, so he was given a further sum, whereupon he distributed part of it among his own poor relatives. After the marriage had been celebrated, the ministers likened Wang Mang to Yi Yin and the Duke of Chou, the two greatest ministers in ancient history, and proposed that Wang Mang be given the same title as they had had, that his sons be ennobled, and he be given honors similar to those the Duke of Chou had received. Wang Mang again refused, the matter was again debated by the ministers, and petitions again poured in from the people. His two remaining sons were made marquises, his mother was made a Baronetess, he was given an official title higher than any other previous minister, and a special seal with the title, "Ruling Governor, Grand Tutor, and Commander-in-chief." The other ministers were ordered to address him in special humble terms. Ten chariots and a host of elite troops and attendants formed his train. Altogether some 487,572 persons signed petitions, urging that he be honored. (This number was likely taken from a memorial to the Grand Empress Dowager, summarizing these documents.) Thus Wang Mang, by a showy Confucian humility and generosity, captured the imaginations of the people. No one before his time and few since then have excited so much enthusiasm.
How Wang Mang secured the loyalty of Liu Hsin(1a)
Among those whose loyalty he secured was the famous scholar, Liu Hsin(1a). Even after Wang Mang usurped the throne and took away imperial and royal honors from the Liu clan, Liu Hsin still remained loyal, until just before Wang Mang's death, when the mounting resentment against Wang Mang, together with an astrological portent and a prophecy, led Liu Hsin finally to head an abortive rebellion (cf. 99 C: 22b-24a). The fact that an outstanding member of the imperial clan and a famous Confucian scholar should have become one of Wang Mang's most loyal supporters and highest officials is so remarkable that it is worth while studying the means by which Wang Mang secured this man's loyalty.
During the reign of Emperor Ch'eng (in 28-25 B.C.), Liu Hsin(1a) had been ordered to assist his father, Liu Hsiang(4a), in cataloging the imperial private library. Emissaries were sent about the country to collect ancient manuscripts, and people were encouraged to present their books to the imperial library. Thus there was gathered the magnificent imperial collection, whose catalog, extracted from that published by Liu Hsin, is to be found in HS ch. 30, the "Treatise on Arts and Literature."
In the course of this study, Liu Hsin came upon some books that had previously been neglected, particularly the Tso-chuan and some writings in ancient characters said to have been discovered about 150 B.C., when tearing down the wall of Confucius' house. These writings were said to have been presented to Emperor Wu about 100 B.C. by K'ung An-kuo. The ancient writings secured then or at other times included some 39 chapters of the lost Book of Rites (i.e., part of the present Chou-li), and 16 chapters of the Book of History. As a good Confucian, who esteemed everything that came from the ancient Chou period, Liu Hsin was deeply impressed, especially by the Tso-chuan. It was in the form of a commentary upon the Spring and Autumn, which latter was thought to have been compiled by Confucius. (The Tso-chuan, according to Maspero and Karlgren, actually dates from the end of the iv century B.C. It has been dated in Han times, but I see no adequate evidence for that dating. There are however doubtless minor interpolations datable in Han times, such as the data for the ancestry of Emperor Kao; cf. HFHD I, 148, n.1.) Tso Ch'iu-ming, its reputed author, is mentioned in the Analects; Liu Hsin(1a) argued, with a young man's enthusiasm, that Tso Ch'iu-ming had talked personally with Confucius, so that his commentary on the Spring and Autumn should be elevated to a place above those by Kung-yang and Ku-liang, which had previously been the only authorized commentaries, for the latter authors had not known Confucius in person, hence were not so likely to have transmitted his conceptions. Liu Hsin sought out those persons who knew the traditional explanation of the Tso-chuan, studied with them, and made new discoveries by comparing its text with that of the Spring and Autumn. His father, Liu Hsiang, was however an adherent of the orthodox Ku-liang Commentary, and remained unimpressed by Liu Hsin's arguments.
In his youth, Wang Mang had known Liu Hsin, as he had known every other person of any consequence in the capital. The two had been associated when they were Gentlemen at the Yellow Gate, and Wang Mang had been impressed by the scholar. When Emperor Ai came to the throne, Wang Mang recommended Liu Hsin to the new Emperor. He was given some honorary positions and asked to complete his father's work in the imperial private library. Liu Hsin now proposed to set up the books he esteemed as authoritative Confucian books for study in the Imperial University, i.e., as authoritative Classics: the Tso-chuan, the Mao text of the Book of Odes (the one now extant), the Chou-li, and the ancient text chapters from the Book of History. When this matter was presented to the Erudits, who were the professors in the Imperial University, they opposed the innovation, and did not even deign to discuss the matter. Liu Hsin felt the cut deeply, and sent a letter to the court, reproaching the Erudits bitterly. They resented his words, one eminent scholar even asking to resign. One of the three highest ministers, a Confucian scholar, was so enraged that Emperor Ai had to intervene in order to protect Liu Hsin. The latter left the court in order to save his life and spent the remainder of Emperor Ai's reign in disgrace as an administrator of distant commanderies.
When Wang Mang came to power after the death of Emperor Ai, he recalled Liu Hsin and gave him an honorary position at the capital. Wang Mang then granted what Liu Hsin had been fighting for---the establishment of the Tso-chuan, the Mao text of the Odes, the Chou-li, and the ancient text of the Book of History as authoritative subjects for study at the Imperial University and for the civil service examinations (88: 25b, 26a). Thus Liu Hsin became attached to Wang Mang through his Confucian loyalties. Wang Mang made him his Hsi-and-Ho, which was Wang Mang's title for the state treasurer, and had him build a Ming-t'ang and a Pi-yung, two Confucian ceremonial buildings. Thereupon he was made a marquis and was put in charge of divination, fixed the calendar, and wrote out his famous San-t'ung astronomical theory. He became an influential advisor of Wang Mang, recommending the Confucian precedents that guided Wang Mang's conduct. He fixed the new regulations for officials' marriages, burials, betrothments, etc. Thus Wang Mang really gave Liu Hsin the opportunity to do his life's work and rewarded him with high office and great honors. In addition, the Confucian doctrine of the five elements, which had become accepted in part through the efforts of Liu Hsin's father, plainly pointed to Wang Mang as the next emperor. It is hence not surprising that when Wang Mang usurped the throne, Liu Hsin should have continued to be loyal.
Most of the influential Confucians were likewise loyal to Wang Mang, because the latter had shown himself loyal to Confucian principles. He not only erected Confucian ceremonial buildings, he also enlarged the Imperial University, increasing the number of authorized classics and establishing five Erudits for each classic. Ten thousand houses were erected for its students, a thousand students and teachers were appointed, a market-place and government granary were established for this new town. Each year, a hundred of its best graduates were taken into the government service by competitive examination. In A.D. 4, Wang Mang also summoned to the capital all the teachers of the empire who had as many as eleven pupils, all those who could teach and explain ancient books on the classics, astronomy, divination, revelations, music, the calendar, military arts, and philology. Thus he gathered thousands of the most learned men in the empire, collected and supported them at the imperial palace, and made use of their learning. In the previous summer, he had ordered the establishment of public schools in commanderies, prefectures, districts, and even in villages; now he probably sent most of these teachers to the government schools. Thus he gathered thousands of the empire's scholars, collected and supported them at the imperial palace, and then gave them government positions. In this way he attached to himself practically the entire body of learned people in the empire. Wang Mang thus invented the method, used so effectively by the Ch'ing and other dynasties, of reconciling learned people to a new ruler or dynasty by giving them scholarly employment in government enterprises.
After Wang Mang took the throne, he continued to honor Liu Hsin, finally making him the State Master, one of the four greatest ministers, and ennobling him as a Duke. Liu Hsin recommended to Wang Mang, as models for government, various practises mentioned in the Chou-li and elsewhere in Confucian tradition, and Wang Mang adopted these Confucian precedents. Many of his famous economic reforms came about in this manner. Wang Mang married his son and heir to Liu Hsin's daughter. In these ways, Wang Mang bound Liu Hsin to him by the greatest honors and the closest possible ties. Only when these ties were broken by Wang Mang himself, did Liu Hsin think of rebelling. Liu Hsin was Wang Mang's guide and advisor in Confucian matters. Liu Hsin thus owed his fame, his opportunity, and his fortune to Wang Mang. Under the circumstances, he could hardly have been otherwise than loyal to such a benefactor.
Did Wang Mang murder Emperor P'ing?
When Emperor P'ing died on Feb. 3, A.D. 6, he was still a minor. He was born in 9 B.C., so that he may have been fully fourteen years old. When, in Oct., A.D. 7, Chai Yi raised the standard of revolt against Wang Mang, the rebels sent messengers about the country alleging that Wang Mang had poisoned Emperor P'ing. This charge was almost universally believed in Later Han times, but we may well discount the prevalence of that belief, for a sequent Han dynasty would be likely to encourage it.
It is of course impossible to determine the truth of such a charge, for we have absolutely no direct evidence on this matter. Events inside the palace could hardly be known except through the testimony of its inmates, most of whom could not leave the place; Wang Mang controlled the palace and its inhabitants for a subsequent period long enough to have silenced any possible witnesses. The absence of any testimony does not thus afford any presumption in either direction.
There were reasons enough to have predisposed Wang Mang to such a murder. He was not above committing such a deed. To hush up his son's adultery, he had the commissioner who investigated the matter murdered and buried in the jail (99 C: 11a). He was not slow in demanding the lives of any who opposed him, even of the highest families; he even executed three of Liu Hsin(1a)'s children (99 C: n. 23.2), and did not hesitate to execute his own son together with hundreds of persons in connection with the plot of Wang Yü (99 A: 16b). Wang Mang showed an utter callousness concerning human affections; he kept Emperor P'ing's mother away from her son, even though she is said to have wept day and night.
Wang Mang furthermore had adequate motives for murdering Emperor P'ing. Wang Mang had prevented any of Emperor P'ing's maternal relatives from coming to the imperial capital, and, when the plot of Wang Yü was discovered, he had executed all these relatives, except Emperor P'ing's mother. The young Emperor P'ing hence had a serious grievance against Wang Mang, and may well have expressed his feelings in his adolescent years. Wang Mang might have suspected he would be unable to control the Emperor, once the latter came of age, and that he might even be made to suffer on some trumped-up charge. The capping of the Emperor, which ceremony marked his coming of age, was moreover delayed until after his death. (That circumstance does not however indicate any delinquency on Wang Mang's part. The regular age for capping, according to Confucian principles, was the fifteenth year; in Han times, however, the age of capping varied: Emperor Chao was not capped until his eighteenth year, while Emperor Ho was capped in his thirteenth year.) Wang Mang loved power and may well have planned to continue his power by initiating another regency. There is a circumstantial account of the poisoning (12: n. 10.2), but it was not used by Pan Ku and is intrinsically questionable. (A dose of poison does not act only fourteen days after it was administered.) Thus there is some evidence tending to show that Wang Mang may have committed regicide.
There are however certain circumstances that lead us to doubt whether Wang Mang really did murder his lord. He probably realized the grave difficulties that would arise concerning the succession to the throne. Emperor P'ing was the last of Emperor Yüan's living descendants; a successor would have to be picked from among the descendants of Emperor Hsüan, who was Emperor Ch'eng's grandfather, so that the successor would be four or five generations removed from his imperial ancestor (Liu Ying was actually the fifth generation). There was also the danger that further pretended sons of Emperor Ch'eng would appear to claim the throne. Wang Mang's uncle, Wang Li(5a), had sponsored one such pretender. Wang Mang may well have furthermore anticipated opposition to an infant successor and a serious rebellion, such as that actually raised by Chai Yi. While the imperial clan had been rendered powerless by the separation of its members, giving them only quite small fiefs, and watching them carefully (long the imperial policy), other officials might nevertheless rebel. The empire had so long been faithful to the Liu clan that its loyalties could not be changed easily. These reasons of state would likely have deterred Wang Mang from attempting an assassination.
Confucian tradition, to which Wang Mang was bound, condemned regicide and exalted faithfulness on the part of ministers. Confucius' own model, who had come to be esteemed by all Confucians as an ideal and sage, was the Duke of Chou, who had loyally laid down his regency when his lord came of age. Wang Mang had frequently been compared to the Duke of Chou and doubtless aspired for the same high reputation as this ideal figure, who was exalted above kings and emperors. Ho Kuang, who had ruled during the reigns of Emperors Chao and Hsüan, was highly esteemed in recent times. Indeed, if Emperor P'ing had not died, Wang Mang would doubtless have come down in history as the greatest minister of Han times, a model for succeeding ages, a regent like the Duke of Chou, whose fame outshone that of emperors themselves. Thus the death of Emperor P'ing may well have seemed a terrible calamity to Wang Mang and he very likely considered that it deprived him of his opportunity for a great Confucian fame.
Wang Mang had attempted to bind Emperor P'ing to himself by secure ties. He married his daughter to the Emperor and in 5 A.D. cut the Tzu-wu Road for the purpose of magically bringing it about that Emperor P'ing should have a son by her. If she had had a son, Wang Mang, as the grandfather of the Heir-apparent and father-in-law of the Emperor, the minister who ruled during the Emperor's minority, would have been secure in his position and untouchable, even by an emperor. Public opinion would have defended against almost any charge a minister with such a high reputation and close relationship.
It is somewhat unlikely that Wang Mang actually planned to usurp the throne until some time after the death of Emperor P'ing. The knife-cash were not issued until June/July, A.D. 7; when Wang Mang actually came to the throne and changed the dynasty, he found these knife-cash an embarrassment, for the word "Liu," the surname of the Han dynasty, contains the words "metal" and "knife," so that Wang Mang had to do away with these knife-coins in order to prevent their magical influence from injuring him (24 B: 21b). While such a magical influence of knife-cash upon the dynastic name might possibly have been neglected in A.D. 7, yet a person so concerned with magical influences as Wang Mang would have been likely to have known their magical meaning, and would hardly have issued them if he had any definite plans for changing the dynasty. Pan Ku states that Wang Mang planned to take the throne only after Chai Yi's rebellion had quickly been crushed.
There is also the fact that Emperor P'ing had been a sickly child, who had been "continually ill" [98: 11b(11)], so that he was not at all strong, and could easily have been carried off by illness, just as was Emperor Ai. Wang Mang seems to have done everything that a loyal minister should have done to prevent this death. When, in the winter of A.D. 5/6, Emperor P'ing was ill, Wang Mang made a vow to the Supreme One, in which he offered his own life for that of the Emperor. The vow was stored in a metal-bound coffer, just as the Duke of Chou had done in a similar case when King Ch'eng was ill. The coffer was not opened until A.D. 23 (99 A: 24b; C: 22b). Wang Mang was superstitious and relied much upon magic, so that he probably took this vow seriously. He furthermore did not kill the succeeding Emperor, the Young Prince, Liu Ying(1a). This child grew up, and, after Wang Mang's death, actually ascended the throne for a time. Furthermore when Chai Yi rebelled in A.D. 7 and when the rebels finally entered Kuan-chung in A.D. 23, Wang Mang made a dramatic appeal to Heaven for aid, in the latter case, setting out, at the place for sacrifice to Heaven, his mandates by means of portents, and asking Heaven to strike him dead by a thunderbolt if he had done wrong (99 C: 25a). When a superstitious man acts thus, it is good evidence that his conscience is clear of any such heinous sins as regicide.
There is thus much evidence to show that Wang Mang was innocent of the charge that he had poisoned his lord, and that this charge was propaganda on the part of those who rose in rebellion against him. It is of course impossible to be certain, and the evidence is far from conclusive. In the end, one's judgment will depend upon one's estimate of Wang Mang's character. That character was evil enough: he was callous to suffering, impatient of any opposition and ready to execute any subordinates and even his own children and grandchildren who presumed to oppose him or even make awkward suggestions (cf. the execution of Wang Chien(4), 98: 14b). But he was a whole-hearted Confucian. Confucianism exalted loyalty and comdemned regicide as a heinous sin. My own opinion is that Wang Mang was too good a Confucian to have murdered Emperor P'ing.
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