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Reason for presentation of this chapter here
The "Annals" in the History of the Former Han Dynasty recount events only until the death of Emperor P'ing on Feb. 3, A.D. 6. There was no legal Han emperor from that date until Aug. 5, A.D. 25, when Emperor Kuang-wu of the Later Han dynasty took the throne. During the first three of these years, Wang Mang, a maternal first cousin of Emperor Ch'eng (the latter of whom was Emperor P'ing's adoptive father), ruled as Regent and Acting Emperor, with Liu Ying, a descendant of Emperor Hsüan, as Heir-apparent and Young Prince, (Ju-tzu, an ancient title, given to King Ch'eng of the Chou dynasty). On Jan. 10, A.D. 9, Wang Mang took the throne as actual Emperor, and ruled until his death on Oct. 6, A.D. 23. Seven months previously, a scion of the House of Han had been set up as Emperor by a group of generals (called, from his reign-period, the Keng-shih Emperor), and, between that time and until Emperor Kuang-wu was seated firmly on the throne, about a dozen other persons were set up or set themselves up as Emperor (cf. Glossary, sub Kuang-wu, Emperor). The events in the first part of this period, from A.D. 6 to A.D. 23, are related fully only in this chapter of the History of the Former Han Dynasty. These seventeen years belong properly to the Former Han period.
The period of Wang Mang's reign is extremely interesting. Its events result from the tendencies that had previously been operating. The "Annals" in the HS constitute a summary of the history during the reigns of the Han emperors; in order to continue that account until the beginning of the Later Han period, there is presented here a translation of the "Memoir of Wang Mang," which is the only extensive primary source for that period. It really constitutes an appendix to the "Annals of Emperor P'ing."
The form of this Memoir
In its form, the "Memoir of Wang Mang" is that of a sequent memoir (chuan); its latter portion, since it is the only extensive account in the HS of these seventeen years, is also an annals for those years.
A typical memoir states first the given name and courtesy name of the person treated, then recounts his native place and ancestry, including a notice of those ancestors who were important. If, however, his father or some antecedent relative has been given a separate memoir, the notice of his native place and ancestry is omitted in such a sequent memoir. This section is followed by an account of his education, how he secured office, what offices he held, his distinguished deeds, his titles, etc. Samples of his writings are quoted, if they were important or interesting. Somewhere in the account there is a description of his character (and possibly of his appearance), preceded by the words, "As a man, ...". The notice of his death is followed by a similar account of his descendants, if they were important, and sometimes of other relatives. In general, events are related chronologically, but there are occasional deviations from that chronological order, as when an earlier event is recounted in order to explain or lead up to a later one. (Sometimes in the text there is no indication of a deviation from the chronological order; it is surprising how often a proper understanding of the chronology requires the use of the pluperfect tense).
The account is thoroughly objective; the historian's feelings are rarely allowed to appear until the end of the chapter, where there is appended a "eulogy (tsan)", giving the historian's judgment upon the person or persons considered in the chapter. This eulogy is usually a highly polished statement, sententious and pregnant. (Later historians, such as Hsün Yüeh, have not been content with exercising so much self-restraint, and, while keeping the objective form of the account, they have introduced at various places in the text a "discussion (lun)" of the events, criticizing or approving the person or deed under consideration, sometimes at considerable length. The term "eulogy" is then reserved for a final polished literary summary.)
A typical annals opens with a brief introductory section, in which are discussed matters concerning the ruler's childhood and the way he came to be selected for the throne. The chapter then relates the events during his reign, by years and months. These recordings are confined to matters of governmental concern; circumstances concerning the private life of even the ruler are relegated to the memoirs of the non-imperial individuals most concerned. Only rarely is there mentioned a matter not of governmental concern, and then only when it is of great importance. Thus Pan Ku did not even mention in his "Annals" the famous poet, Szu-ma Hsiang-ju, although he greatly admired this genius. Matters concerning legal developments are usually summarized briefly, sometimes with a reference to the "Treatise on Punishments and Laws." Matters that can be discussed better in other treatises (chih) or memoirs are similarly dealt with. Typical and important imperial edicts are quoted. After recounting the death and burial of the ruler, there is a eulogy, similar to that in a memoir.
The "Memoir of Wang Mang" is preceded by that of his aunt, the Grand Empress Dowager nee Wang (ch. 98), in which there is given an extended account of the Wang clan's ancestry and of the other members of that important clan. (An abstract of that memoir will be found in the Glossary.) Consequently, matters concerning Wang Mang's ancestry and predecessors are to be found in that memoir. His memoir is thus a sequent one, and omits the features with which a typical memoir begins. Since it is a memoir, not an annals, Pan Ku does not confine himself to governmental concerns, and introduces memorials written by Wang Mang and others. He also relates fully the antecedents of events. The part of this memoir devoted to the reign of Emperor P'ing is more than twice as long as the "Annals" of that Emperor.
Pan Ku's problem was how to include properly an account of Wang Mang's reign in a history of the Han period. Before he wrote the Han-shu, Pan Ku had prepared an annals for the first of the Later Han emperors, so that he knew where a history of the Later Han dynasty must begin. He did not wish to leave unrecorded the two decades between these two periods. If Wang Mang had been a legitimate emperor, Pan Ku could have written an annals for his reign, with additional memoirs treating of his important officials. Since Wang Mang was a usurper, Pan Ku could not do so. But Wang Mang was a minister to the last emperor of the Former Han line. So Pan Ku could legitimately write a memoir for him and could continue this account down to the beginning of the Later Han period. Thus he cleverly included this interregnal period in his History of the Former Han Dynasty.
Since this chapter is a memoir, the accounts of Wang Mang's officials are also included in it and they are not given separate accounts. Thus this chapter contains almost all the information in the History about Wang Mang. In addition to what we have here, there is elsewhere material about this usurper in the "Annals of Emperor P'ing" (with brief mentions in those of Emperors Ch'eng and Ai), an important section concerning Wang Mang's economic policies in the "Treatise on Food and Goods" (translated in Appendix I), and a very short notice of his religious activities in the "Treatise on the Suburban and Other Sacrifices." The rebellion of Chai Yi is furthermore treated in detail in this person's memoir (abstracted in the glossary). Thus this account of Wang Mang is more rounded than that in other memoirs, in dealing with which it is necessary, in order to obtain a complete account, to read also the memoirs of the several participants in the series of events, and supplement them by the chronology to be found in the imperial annals and the tables, especially that in part B to the "Table of the Many Offices" (ch. 19). Hence this chapter dealing with Wang Mang is much longer than an annals or an ordinary memoir would be---and also much more satisfying.
Because there is no annals for the reign of Wang Mang, the later portion of this chapter is both an annals and a memoir. A memoir regularly proceeds chronologically, so that Pan Ku could easily combine these two forms.
Since this chapter also contains the only account of Wang Mang's officials, Pan Ku found that he could not end it with the death of the usurper, for he needed to relate the fate of those officials. Then he also summarized the subsequent history down to the accession of Emperor Kuang-wu. This chapter is complicated in its form.
Its division into three parts was probably the work of either Ying Shao or Yen Shih-ku, who made the divisions in the chapters of the HS. This division is logical and deserves to stand. Part A deals with the rise of Wang Mang down to his assumption of the throne in A.D. 9. Part B pictures him at the height of his power. It relates his extensive changes in rites and titles and the beginning of his decline. Part C deals with the collapse of his rule, from A.D. 17 to the end. The chapter is so long that these divisions have proved useful as well as logical.
Concerning the sources of this and other chapters, I shall have something to say in the volume of "Prolegomena" to this series. In the main, the sources here are the same as elsewhere: imperial messages and edicts, stenographical reports of imperial conversations (cf. 99 A: 27a), some official annals kept at the palace, memorials to the throne, with their very varied contents, such as even testimony at trials and the reports given by informers. In addition, Pan Ku used the political pamphlets of the day, which probably also formed part of the memorials to the throne, sometimes being presented to the throne by the author of the pamphlet, and sometimes (in the case of those attacking Wang Mang) forming part of the evidence memorialized to justify a condemnation. The material that might have come from the above sources may well account for practically the whole of this chapter.
In this chapter, the amount of direct and extended quotation from primary sources is noteworthy. In Part A, these explicit quotations form 68% of the whole; in Part B, 53%; and in Part C, 41% (exclusive of the eulogy); an average of 55% for the chapter. Pan Ku was himself a poet and literary artist of the first rank, and plainly admired the Confucian literary products of Wang Mang's time, including Wang Mang's own edicts, hence was led to quote them as examples of the age's literary products. The two memorials written by Chang Sung (99 A: 10a-16a; 27b-29a) alone account for 27% of the direct quotations in Part A.
In addition to the direct quotations, there is a very large amount of information that must have come from written documents, such as official appointments, enfeoffments, summaries of official orders concerning economic matters, concerning the redistricting of territory, concerning military expeditions, etc. Much of this material is probably fragmentary direct quotation. Since there is no difference in Chinese style between direct and indirect discourse (except for the personal pronouns, the phrase "your servant," and a few such phrases), a clever compiler, such as Pan Ku shows himself to be, could more easily piece together phrases from earlier documents to produce his own account than himself compose the whole account anew. The peculiar description of the bandits in 99 C: 14b, which makes them out to be beggars going about asking for food, blaming the fighting upon the government officials who come out and get hurt, was very likely part of the report sent in by the Higher Subordinate Official of the Commander-in-chief mentioned immediately afterwards, who was captured by the bandits and freed, probably because he promised to plead for them. Pan Ku used it as his own account of the bandits (without mention of his source), since it came from a man who could speak at first hand about them.
Another noteworthy feature of the age was the number of extensive political documents, chiefly propaganda, that are mentioned in this chapter. Evidently it was an age when there was a large reading public, who eagerly perused such documents and passed them from hand to hand. In A.D. 5, 487,572 persons (probably by groups) turned in memorials at the capital concerning Wang Mang (99 A: 19b). We hear of a work on filial piety written by Wang Mang in eight fascicles (99 A: 17a), of a report by the eight commissioners concerning the people's customs, praising Wang Mang, in 30,000 words (99 A: 23b), of a piece of propaganda, entitled "The Mandate of Heaven Given Through Portents," in 42 fascicles (99 B: 9a), of a remonstrance to Wang Mang written by his general, Chuang Yu, in three fascicles (99 C: 5b), of a book of revelations written by Wang K'uang(4b) attacking Wang Mang, in over 100,000 words (99 C: 12b), and of Wang Mang's own apologia, in more than a thousand words (99 C: 25a). In addition there are mentioned other political documents that must have been extensive, but about whose length we are given no information: Chai Yi's message attacking Wang Mang, sent about the country at the outset of his rebellion (99 A: 30a; 84: 11a); Liu Yin(4a) Po-sheng's messages (99 C: 20a), and Wei Hsiao's message (HHS, Mem. 3: 2a-4a), all attacking Wang Mang. There must have been many more, in addition to the government documents and constant propaganda. Pan Piao's "Discussion of the Mandate to True Kings" (quoted in HS 100 A: 7b-11b) was probably a pamphlet passed about the country in support of Emperor Kuang-wu.
Stange (in Die Monographie über Wang Mang, p. xxiv) states that this chapter contains many matters which could only have come from oral tradition or court gossip. There are, of course, some matters that did come from oral tradition, such as the opinion about Wang Mang's music (99 C: 4b), which might indeed have come from Pan Chih, Pan Ku's grandfather. But such matters that are traceable to no written sources are very much fewer than one might think, and Stange's own examples are all chosen unfortunately.
Whenever a capital sentence was imposed, the facts upon which that sentence was based were summarized in the form of a memorial and sent to the emperor for his approval before the sentence was carried out. These memorials then formed part of the government records, were preserved, and were available to Pan Ku for the compilation of his History. The government archives from Former Han times must have been very extensive. The most surprising case is that in a memorial of A.D. 9 (99 A: 34b), Wang Mang mentions a book of revelation by Kan Chung-k'o as being extant and stored in the Orchid Terrace (the imperial archives). Now this remarkable work (in twelve rolls) had been written some time in the reign of Emperor Ch'eng. It contained a prophecy that the Han dynasty had come to the end of its period and must receive a renewed mandate from Heaven. The famous Liu Hsiang had memorialized that the matter was a fabrication to impose upon the vulgar, and Kan Chung-k'o died in prison. In 5 B.C., a disciple, Hsia Ho-liang, memorialized this book to Emperor Ai, who was impressed by it and changed his own title and year-period in order to conform with this prophecy. (It was evidently this copy that Wang Mang read.) A few months later, when his illness did not improve, Emperor Ai abrogated his change and turned Hsia Ho-liang over to his officials, who decided that he had maliciously deceived the Emperor, which was an inhuman crime; he and his associates were executed. Now if this repudiated prophetic book, forming part of a memorial from a man who was executed for one of the most serious crimes in the code, was preserved in the imperial archives for a period of fourteen years, during three reigns, it is likely that memorials to the throne were generally preserved. Such memorials contained information and advice about all sorts of matters; they must have been an extensive source of information for anyone who had access to them. Pan Ku occasionally quotes such memorials, for example, Chuang Yu's advice about the expedition against the Huns, which advice was rejected (found in 94 B: 19a-b = de Groot, Die Hunnen, pp. 273-275).
Now let us examine the examples of supposedly oral tradition mentioned by Stange. The first one, the intrigue of Wang Mang against Shun-yu Chang (99 A: 2a), resulted in the death of Shun-yu Chang, the execution of his family and several dozen other persons, including a former Empress, and the promotion of Wang Mang, so that there must have been official documents recounting the testimony of those examined, requesting the execution of these persons, detailing the culprit's crimes, and indicating the person who reported them (cf. Glossary sub Shun-yu Chang). Pan Ku's information about this incident was very likely based upon these written documents.
The account of Wang Mang's wife's economy (99 A: 2a, b) also probably came from a documentary source; some among the hundreds of thousands of memorials praising Wang Mang probably contained this detail, as well as many other details of Wang Mang's early life. A similar memorial was probably the source for his interview with K'ung Hsiu (99 A: 3b-4a). It is even more probable that the statement made by Liu Ch'ung to his Chancellor, Chang Shao (99 A: 27a, b), was taken from a documentary source, either from the report of the magistrate about this rebellion or from a memorial to Wang Mang by Chang Shao's cousin, Chang Sung, excusing himself. In the case of Chao Ming's message to Chai Yi (99 A: 30b), it is quite possible that this message might have been found in Chai Yi's camp after his defeat or in the city of Yü, to which he fled and which was taken by storm.
It is not asserted that these conversations actually occurred, any more than that the Higher Subordinate Official's account of the bandits was true; it is merely pointed out that these conversations, etc., found in the HS, could in most cases have been found by Pan Ku in some documentary source, and that he used them as representing what very likely had happened. There are many cases, especially in the HS memoirs, in which a conversation would have enlivened the account and in which no conversations are recounted. Hence it is most probable that Pan Ku did not invent the conversations he recounts. He may be criticized for using other people's invented conversations, but it seems rarely the case that he himself invented matters which were not found in documents.
We have considered each of the cases Stange brings forward as supposed instances of oral tradition, and note that, as Pan Ku used them, they were all probably found by him in written form. The accounts of conversations, etc., found in the HS are different in their nature from the ones in the SC that have been so correctly suspected of having been fabricated by Szu-ma Ch'ien. The latter writer has been known for his lively accounts of events. Pan Ku's History has been criticized as being inferior in its literary character---the difference is probably that Pan Ku refused to invent conversations and events to enliven his writings, unless he found them in his sources. Hence the reliability of each case must be judged upon its own merits and any general suspicion of Pan Ku's reliability must be laid aside.
The sources for the account of Wang Mang's last days
The account of Wang Mang's death is extremely interesting because of the abundant details recounted and their vividness. The number of intimate details are so extraordinary that this account must have come from an eye-witness who had close access to the Emperor. It tells what happened on each day of the siege; how Wang Mang changed the guard at the city gates; how Chang(2) Han was killed as he was making the rounds of the gates; how Wang Mang was robed and where he sat in the throne-room, in the direction of the handle to the Great Dipper, performing divination while the Palace was burning (99 C: 27a). We are told by what steps he left the throne-room building---a staircase seemingly not mentioned elsewhere in ancient literature (a detail that would hardly have been invented by a forger)---and that his driver on his final journey was Wang Yi(6), a person only mentioned here and among the list of those who died with Wang Mang. At the tower where Wang Mang's followers made their last stand, we are told how Wang Mu, the son of Wang Mang's Heir-apparent, Wang Yi5, was taking off his court robes, preparing to flee, when his father arrived, who made him don them again and stay to die with Wang Mang. Thus part of the account plainly comes from an intimate companion of Wang Mang.
Other features are written from the viewpoint of the attackers. We are told in some detail how Teng Yi and Yü K'uang arose, whom they first attacked, how they effected entrance through the Wu Pass, how Teng Yi marched around the Han-ku Pass---by an obscure path not mentioned elsewhere by Chinese geographers---and how he defeated the Nine Tiger Generals, bottled the remainder of them up in the Capital Granary, left them, and began preparing siege implements.
Then we are told by what gate the attackers entered the palace, what important courtiers died defending the entrance to the Tower Bathed by Water, and which ones died with Wang Mang in the room on top of the Tower; exactly who killed Wang Mang and took his imperial seals and cords; who recognized the cords, evidently by their distinctive color, identified the corpse and took its head; and how Wang Hsien(4) lived like an emperor after the death of Wang Mang.
Where did all these details come from? They are too circumstantial to have been invented by a romancer. The "Memoir" gives us two details that seem to solve the problem. In the first place, it says that after the death of Wang Mang, Shen-t'u Ch'ien, a Han general, directed Liu Tz'u(4b), the Lieutenant Chancellor of the Keng-shih Emperor, to have Ts'ui Fa beheaded, because the latter had written an account of Wang Mang (99 C: 28b). Liu Tz'u(4b) came to Ch'ang-an before the Keng-shih Emperor arrived, to look over the situation and prepare a residence for the new Emperor, at which time this sentence was probably passed. Ts'ui Fa was an important personage, one of Wang Mang's advisors; a request for his execution would very probably have been prepared in accordance with the regular court procedure---a dossier of the evidence accompanied the request. In this case, most of the evidence was probably Ts'ui Fa's written account. The Keng-shih Emperor made Ch'ang-an his capital, so that the whole document found its way into the imperial archives. Thus we can trace back to Ts'ui Fa an important part of the material concerning the death of Wang Mang.
Ts'ui Fa was in a position to know these events, for he belonged to the innermost circle about Wang Mang. Ts'ui Fa appears again and again in the account of Wang Mang's reign, giving successful advice upon various superstitious practises, such as the very interesting wailing at the Altar to Heaven and the wailing in the city of Ch'ang-an to keep off invaders.
Ts'ui Fa seems, after his surrender to Shen-t'u Ch'ien, to have written an apologia, recounting his influence over Wang Mang and relating the details of the last days in his master's life. Perhaps he was with Wang Mang in the Tower and, as Wang Mu began to do, he took off his court robes, mixed with the ignorant soldiers who did not even recognize Wang Mang, and escaped. Ts'ui Fa seems to have been the sort of man who would do such a thing, and afterwards attempt to gain glory by writing an account of what had transpired. We know that this apologia was preserved, for it is stated that Emperor Kuang-wu had Yin Min rebut "a comparison written in behalf of Wang Mang by Ts'ui Fa" (HHS, Mem. 69 A: 10a), which contained prophecies and revelations.
Other features of Pan Ku's account came from separate sources. Someone undoubtedly wrote an account of the capture of Ch'ang-an as a report to the Keng-shih Emperor. We are not told who it was; the account did not come from Wang Hsien(4); it is too unfavorable to him. I suspect that Teng Yi was the author of this account, if there were not many such accounts---many of the details in the HS are connected with Teng Yi's expedition. Kung-pin Chiu, who secured Wang Mang's head, moreover carried this trophy to the Keng-shih Emperor at Yüan and received a marquisate for his deed. He undoubtedly had someone prepare an account of his exploit for presentation to the Emperor---possibly he wrote it himself. This account might naturally contain a list stating where each of Wang Mang's officials died, for Kung-pin Chiu was familiar with the court and could identify them.
The curious literary addition that several tens of soldiers killed each other in hacking Wang Mang's body to pieces may also come from his account. This incident is strikingly like the occurrence at the death of Hsiang Yü, when several tens of soldiers killed each other in the struggle for his body (Mh II, 320); indeed, exactly the same Chinese words are used. In that case, a reward was given to each person who finally secured a member; in the case of Wang Mang, we hear of nothing except the reward to Kung-pin Chiu; indeed, no reward seems actually to have previously been offered for Wang Mang's head, although everyone doubtless expected a reward. This incident looks like a literary embellishment to the account of Wang Mang's death, and might very likely have been added by Kung-pin Chiu in order to make an impression. If it was found in the written report of an eye-witness, we can hardly blame Pan Ku for utilizing it.
The foregoing analysis may indicate something of the nature of the sources used by Pan Ku. Of course, this analysis is wholly hypothetical; Pan Ku left no detailed account of the sources he used. But we know that he had free access to the imperial archives, and we can determine, from a knowledge of Han practises, about what sort of material must have been in those archives. Since Pan Ku spent twenty years working on his History while he was an official of the imperial private library and had access to the archives, he would naturally have culled out the material we find in this chapter. Then it is almost entirely a skilful piecing together of documentary material.
Pan Piao's part in this chapter
It is difficult to determine whether most of this chapter was written by Pan Ku or by his father, Pan Piao. Stange ibid., xii) thinks that a large part came from the experiences of Pan Piao. But Pan Piao was born in A.D. 3 (HHS, Mem. 30 A: 5a), so that he was only twenty years of age when Wang Mang was killed. His father, Pan Chih, was living in retirement as a Gentleman at the tomb of Emperor Ch'eng, because of his tacit opposition to Wang Mang, so that Pan Piao would hardly have been acquainted in court circles. It would thus seem that only a negligible part of this chapter could have come from Pan Piao's own experiences. In a work made up largely of piecemeal quotations from documentary sources, we would hardly expect any differences in style between father and son. Pan Piao became later only a minor official in some of the capital offices; he was sent out to hold office in a city of the present Anhui and later to one in Hopei, so that he hardly had access to the numerous sources available to Pan Ku. The HHS says that Pan Ku considered his father's account not to have been sufficiently detailed (HHS, Mem. 30 A: 7b), and, in his own preface, Pan Ku does not mention his father's work. I suspect that Pan Piao did not have much to do with the "Memoir of Wang Mang," although it is impossible to prove such a statement.
The reliability of this account
Pan Ku has often been suspected of bias against Wang Mang. He indeed condemns Wang Mang in the severest terms---his eulogy (99 C: 29a-30a) could hardly have been more drastic. His family, too, suffered from Wang Mang. In the reign of Emperor Ch'eng (during ca. 32-18 B.C.), Pan Ku's clan had for a time been very close to the throne, enjoying an eminence that was said to have shaken the empire (100 A: 6a). About 1 B.C., however, Pan Ku's grandfather had been accused of a capital crime by Wang Mang's associates and compelled to retire from official life (100 A: 5b). Hence the Pan clan was not in sympathy with Wang Mang, although it took no part in the rebellions against him. In the disorder after the death of Wang Mang, Pan Piao fled to the present Kansu, where he finally joined Emperor Kuang-wu's forces, and later returned to the capital with them. Pan Ku was moreover a loyal adherent of the Later Han dynasty; he was highly honored by and intimate with its second emperor (HHS, Mem. 30 A: 8b). He thus had ample reason to be prejudiced against Wang Mang.
There is, however, little or no evidence that he actually distorted his History because of any such prejudice. In the first place, his method of writing history by extensively quoting sources was itself a safeguard. If there had been any considerable distortion of the facts on his part, the large amount of quotation from contemporary documents would enable us to discover such distortion.
The high literary quality of Wang Mang's edicts and of his courtiers' memorials indeed probably caused Pan Ku to admire them greatly and to quote them extensively. He was actually attracted to this age, because of its Confucian spirit. Yin Min, with whom Pan Ku worked on "The Fundamental Annals of the Epochal Exemplar, [Emperor Kuang-wu]," (HHS, Mem. 30 A: 8a), found it impossible to rebut Ts'ui Fa's apologia for Wang Mang, probably because it was so thoroughly Confucian in its spirit and sayings. All he could say was that the sages had written no prophetic writings and that the dissection of characters to derive meanings from them was almost the same as vulgarity (HHS, Mem. 69 A: 10a). Wang Mang's portents were so Confucian and were presented with so much Confucian learning that probably the only possible refutation was that offered tacitly by Pan Ku---that they were fabrications.
In the second place, Pan Ku seems personally to have cherished a high ideal of historical accuracy. He does not tell good stories for their own sake, as did Szu-ma Ch'ien. His literary style may have suffered thereby; the ambitious Szu-ma Ch'ien seems to have told dramatic stories, whereas Pan Ku clung to what he conceived to be the truth. Pan Ku's spirit was that of the fifty-odd Confucians whom Emperor Wu asked (ca. 110 B.C.) to determine the ancient ceremonies for the imperial sacrifices feng and shan, which that Emperor proposed to reestablish. Failing to discover any detailed account of these rites, they replied that they could not determine them, and the Emperor himself fixed these rites (HS 58: 12a, b).
This spirit of historical accuracy was nourished by the famous story in the Tso-chuan (Dk. Hsiang, XXV; Legge, p. 514), concerning the historiographers in the state of Ch'i. When, in 548 B.C., Ts'ui Chu's followers killed Duke Chuang, who had illegally entered the former's house, the Grand Clerk is said to have written on his records, "Ts'ui Chu assassinated his prince." Ts'ui Chu had the clerk put to death, but his younger brother, who succeeded to the position, made the same record. (Official posts were hereditary in the clans of their occupants.) Ts'ui Chu had this brother in turn put to death, but the third brother, on succeeding to the position, made the same record. So Ts'ui Chu forgave the last brother and let the record stand. Meanwhile the Clerk For the South, hearing that the clan of the Grand Clerk had been extinguished, had taken his writing tablets and started for the court, evidently intending to make the same record when he would succeed to the post of Grand Clerk. Upon hearing that the record had been made, he however returned home. This story, whether true or not, must have been a powerful stimulus in ancient times to a correct recording of history, since it was the picture of the ideal clerk.
One of the accusations made against Liu Hsin(1a) was that he had "done away with the traditions about the classics handed down from generation to generation by his teachers"---he seems to have merely changed the principles of portent-interpretation (Cf. 99 C: 14b and n. 14.6). There was thus in certain strains of Confucianism a strong tradition of fidelity to the facts of history. Pan Ku, a thorough-going Confucian, had this strong incentive to give an unprejudiced picture of even a ruler whom he reprobated deeply.
In the third place, the Pan clan had not actually been harmed by Wang Mang, and had good reason to be attached to his aunt, the Grand Empress Dowager nee Wang. Pan Ku's own great-aunt had become a favorite of Emperor Ch'eng and came to be entitled the Favorite Beauty nee Pan. She retired from the imperial court in 18 B.C., when she became unwillingly involved in an intrigue. She then devoted herself to the care of the Grand Empress Dowager, who became fond of her (100 A: 5b). Wang Mang belonged to the same social group as Pan Ku's grandfather and great-uncles. Wang Mang indeed treated them as his own brothers and wore mourning for Pan Ku's great-uncle (before 1 B.C.; 100 A: 5b). Pan Ku's grandfather, Pan Chih, who was a commandery official during the reign of Emperor P'ing, was impeached by Wang Mang's associates for having failed to forward to the throne a laudatory report, which he probably knew was false. Through the intercession of the Grand Empress Dowager, he was not punished, and retired from active life with his former salary to the funerary park of Emperor Ch'eng. Thus Pan Ku's clan was able to remain unmolested in safe obscurity during the reign of Wang Mang and had no reason for any active animosity towards Wang Mang. The family income came from Wang Mang's treasury.
In the fourth place, the popular reaction against Wang Mang was so thorough that the Later Han dynasty did not need to encourage propaganda against him, so that a prejudiced account was not expected. Pan Ku was moreover born nine years after Wang Mang died, so that he came of a generation which was able to view Wang Mang dispassionately. He wrote half a century after Wang Mang's age, when active resentment had had time to die down.
In the fifth place, Pan Ku seems to have clung to a historian's objective valuation of events, and refused to over-value events in order to make an impression. For example, he did not record all the early revolts on the part of the Liu clan against Wang Mang, which he might have done in order to exalt the Han dynasty. He tells merely of Liu Ch'ung (99 A: 27a) and of Liu K'uai (99 B: 7b, 8a); it is only through an incidental mention in a memorial by Sun Chien that we learn of Liu Ts'eng and Liu Kuei, who also revolted (99 B: 13b). Probably these latter two revolts were so ineffective that Pan Ku did not consider them worth recounting. He even gives an outline of Wang Mang's book of propaganda and quotes its conclusion at length (99 B: 9a-11a), without attempting any rebuttal. The coincidences and analogies he quotes are quite adequate to convince a superstitiously inclined person of Wang Mang's legitimacy. Pan Ku does thus seem to try to give a fair view of Wang Mang and to be objective in his presentation of the evidence. I began my study of this chapter with a decided prejudice against Pan Ku (expecting him to be prejudiced) and in favor of Wang Mang, but the weight of the primary sources quoted by Pan Ku and the facts he recounts forced me to reverse my opinion and to agree with Pan Ku in condemning Wang Mang. There is every evidence that Pan Ku really tried and largely succeeded in giving an objective and reliable account of Wang Mang.
The literary quality of this chapter
The "Memoir of Wang Mang" is a literary masterpiece, in which the author largely succeeds in giving the reader the impression that Wang Mang left upon his contemporaries. Upon first reading it, Wang Mang appears at the outset as an unusually able and upright person, ambitious perhaps, but of uncommon high-mindedness. He outdoes his age in scrupulous morality, and his few off-color deeds, such as his purchase of a slave-girl and the supplanting of Shun-Yü Chang, appear as quite excusable in such an unusual person. Even the execution of his son, Huo, appears as sheer uprightness, not ruthlessness. His handling of the crisis at the death of Emperor Ai is magnificent, and the clever way he afterwards disposed of those who might thwart him brings applause. His steady humility and princely generosity fill one with admiration, just as they did the public of his time. As clever intrigues, one after another, bring success and he is praised, rewarded, and raised to heights never before known in Chinese history, a casual reader may well feel approval of this hero, although the approval may not be so whole-hearted when one remembers his ruthless crushing of his oldest son, of the Wei clan, and their associates, and the cruel way he secured settlers for the new Hsi-hai Commandery. (It is not until one has read through the whole account to the end and recognizes Wang Mang's character in its full depth of ruthless self-centeredness and shrewd deception, that these early events take on a sinister, not a benignant aspect. This masterly effect is achieved by the simple expedient of relating facts objectively and leaving their interpretation for the most part to the reader. [Exceptions to this entire objectivity are confined to adjectives and phrases, the condemnatory nature of which are deliberately hightened in the translation, in order to indicate the author's inner attitude. Cf. 99 A: 1b, 4b, 6b, 8b.] It is not, for example, until Wang Mang's last legitimate son has died that we are informed of the four children he begat in his three years of retirement at his estate, just as his public did not know of this fact until that time. Then we realize that he was no high-minded monogamist, but an iron-willed hypocrite, ready to conceal anything from the public.)
As portent follows portent with ever increasing impressiveness, and as rebellions are crushed, we are filled with admiration for this able statesman, and realize that his public approved of his taking the throne. When he attains the height of his power and ascends the throne with seeming reluctance, we feel that he has secured his just deserts. He appears as the conscientious Confucian, bent on obedience to the examples of the ancient sage-kings, determined to perfect his state in all particulars.
Then, as unwise and oppressive measures follow one after another, as he crushes ruthlessly his old followers, Chen Feng and his party, we realize the tremendous force for evil that he incarnated, and we begin to guess something of the tortures in store for the country. When the people are driven to banditry, when his own grandson and his son plot against his life, and when finally even his three highest officials plot to abduct him, we feel that he is getting only his just deserts. When however the collapse comes, and Wang Mang appears as a tired old man, sleeping only on his stool (99 C: 24a), wearing himself out to the end in an iron determination to vanquish even hopeless circumstances, using every means except the right ones, our indignation turns to pity, and the final massacre becomes not merely the inevitable result of his deeds, but a real tragedy, for the whole account constitutes a masterly portrayal of overweening ambition and its inevitable result.
Pan Ku has moreover achieved this wonderful effect, not by a free composition, but by piecing together documents in the right order, clinging to the facts as he found them---a work of extraordinary artistry. Sometimes the machinery does creak, as when we are given the long list of appointments and enactments made when Wang Mang ascended the throne, but such things are inevitable in a history that attempts to be complete. When the edicts and memorials drag out their weary length and the flowery parallels are repeated again and again, we begin to get weary, until we realize that we are being treated to samples of the age's literature. It is rather surprising that the whole account is not dull and long-winded from beginning to end. A lesser artist would have made it so. Pan Ku saw his opportunity for producing an unusually artistic history out of dry-as-dust materials and solved the problem of doing so. Such an achievement is nothing less than a work of genius.
Historical problems connected with Wang Mang
Because this chapter is not accompanied by memoirs that elaborate the dry facts given in its chronological outline, as was the case with the "Imperial Annals," but is itself a historical unit, it is not necessary in this introduction to present matters omitted from this chapter, as was done previously. The only important matters not presented fully in this chapter are the economic measures adopted by Wang Mang, and they are discussed fully in the appendices.
The important problems concerning Wang Mang up to the time of Emperor P'ing's death have been discussed in the introduction to that Emperor's "Annals." It remains here to discuss two further matters: Why was there so little opposition to Wang Mang's seizure of the throne? and, What were the reasons for his fall?
How Wang Mang secured general approval for his usurpation
As was pointed out previously, Wang Mang gained his honors by espousing thoroughly the Confucian faith and utilizing its traditions. After Emperor P'ing's death, Confucian principles were used to exalt Wang Mang by persons who believed they would be benefited by his elevation. Thereby they raised him to the throne.
Confucianism has had a curiously ambivalent attitude towards existing rulers. Confucius was himself a legitimist; he tried to strengthen the power of the ruler in his own state of Lu against the noble clans who were usurping that power. The Spring and Autumn has been interpreted, from ancient times, as indicating an attempt on the part of Confucius to exalt the position of the Son of Heaven (the Chou King) against the feudal nobles who were usurping that power. Thus Confucianism has stood for loyalty to the titular ruler of the state and the exaltation of his power against other claimants for power. This fact is, I think, the ultimate reason that China has never had any successful line of nobles, such as the Shoguns, who ruled for a succession of faineant emperors.
On the other hand, Confucianism has included the splendid doctrine of Heaven's Mandate, by virtue of whose possession a dynasty rules, but which may be lost by wicked or incapable rulers. This doctrine has been of inestimable ethical benefit to China and has probably been responsible for the generally good character of Chinese rule. The teaching that "Heaven's mandate is not constant" (Book of Odes, III, i, i, 5; Legge, p. 430) was dinned into the ears of Chinese heir-apparents by their Confucian tutors and ministers, so that rulers were induced to attempt being models for the empire, for the sake of keeping themselves on the throne and of perpetuating their dynastic lines. In Former Han times at least, the character of the emperors was generally higher than that of their brothers and cousins, who were petty kings. Confucianism has both supported existing dynasties and also, when a dynasty has shown itself feeble, has helped to bring about its fall.
By the end of Former Han times, Confucianism had absorbed and modified the teachings of the Yin-and-Yang school and the school of the Five Powers. The latter school asserted that the coming of each dynasty had been heralded by portents. This belief was accepted by Han Confucianism. The heralding of great rulers by supernatural portents is a widespread ancient belief; it could be justified in Han China by many ancient myths concerning the founders of the Chou dynasty and others, which myths were accordingly incorporated into the Confucian tradition. Wang Mang's many portents were quite Confucian.
In Chou times, divination and magical practises were part of the state religion, and many examples of both are to be found in the Tso-chuan, so that the acceptance of magical performances of many sorts became part of the Confucian imitation of ancient practises. The famous Hsün-tzu, whose interpretation of Confucian theory dominated Han Confucianism, had indeed attacked superstition of all sorts, even denying the existence of any spirits whatever, but the anti-superstitious phase of his teaching was not adopted by Han thinkers. Wang Mang's extensive use of magic, especially in the closing phase of his reign, was quite Confucian. His use of the divining-board when the Palace was being attacked (99 C: 27a) was copied directly from the account of the Grand Astrologer in the Chou-li. The magical sacrifices, by which he expected to attain immortality, were probably also considered to be Confucian. They were suggested by Su Yo, who is entitled a magician (fang-shih; 25 B: 22b). Magic was then probably considered a Confucian practise, for the Chou-li includes among the imperial officials such magical offices as the Grand Augur (Biot, II, 69), the Master of Augury ( Pu-shih; ibid. 74), Diviners ( Chan-jen; ibid. 78), the Interpreter of Dreams ( Chan-meng; ibid. 82), the Grand Intercessor (T'ai-chu; ibid. 85), the Imprecator ( Tsu-chu; ibid. 101), the Chief of the Shamans ( Szu-wu; ibid. 102), the Male and Female Shamans ( Nan-, Nü-wu; ibid. 103, 104), the Hereditary Magical Chancellor (Fang-hsiang-shih; ibid.d. 225), and the Shaman for Horses ( Wu-ma; ibid.d. 259). Indeed, many practises which later became specifically Taoist seem to have been considered Confucian in Former Han times; Liu Hsiang(4a), one of the outstanding Confucians, spent much time and money, in his younger days, in attempting to make alchemistic gold. Since Confucianism stressed the imitation of ancient practises, magic, alchemy, and superstition entered this stream of thought with little hindrance. They seem only later to have been cast out, especially in Sung times.
Wang Mang was such a convinced Confucian that he accepted its superstition and magic, and may never have doubted, even in his last hours, that the careful use of Confucian magic would eventually bring success---at least that is Ts'ui Fa's picture of him. Yet he was so worried during the last few days that he could not eat (99 C: 27a). Confucians could later explain the failure of this magic in the case of Wang Mang by alleging that magic does not work for a usurper.
Literary noble titles
The use of literary titles for nobles, rather than titles drawn from their fiefs, seems also to have been a specifically Confucian practise. Emperor Kao gave a few such literary titles before he acquired any secure territory, such as that of Baronet Enlarging Our Territory, given to Li Yi-chi. Li Yi-chi was the first Confucian whom Emperor Kao was able to endure. When this emperor later took the throne, with characteristic common sense, he gave only titles taken from some fief. There were a few other literary titles, all of which were similarly unimportant. The first important and permanent literary title in Han times was Emperor Wu's title for the noble he enfeoffed to carry on the sacrifices to the Chou dynasty, the Baronet Baron Descendant of the Chou Dynasty. The practise of enfeoffing a descendant of a supplanted dynasty to carry on the ancestral sacrifices of that dynasty is itself Confucian and this practise is recorded in the Confucian Classics as having been performed by the founders of the Chou dynasty. In the course of time, as Confucian influence became stronger, more and more literary titles appeared. When Emperor Yüan took the throne, he appointed K'ung Pa, a descendant of Confucius who had been this Emperor's teacher, as Baronet in Recompense for [Confucius'] Perfection (81: 15a). He also raised the title for the descendant of the Chou dynasty to be that of marquis. Emperor Ch'eng furthermore appointed a Marquis Continuing and Honoring the Ancestral Sacrifices of the Yin Dynasty, and then raised both these last two marquises to the rank of duke.
Wang Mang at first continued this practise of giving literary titles only to those nobles continuing ancient lines. In A.D. 1, Confucius was posthumously made Duke Hsüan-ni as Recompense for Perfection. As time went on, the Confucian literary flavor of such titles attracted him more and more, and the magical properties of such names made them important. Confucius was said to have emphasized the "rectification of names". That statement was now taken to imply the giving of magically effective titles. After he came to the throne, Wang Mang used almost none but literary titles for his nobles, his officials, and his generals. I have attempted the difficult and dubious task of translating them, in order to indicate their literary and magical flavor.
Wang Mang changed the titles of his officials to phrases found in the Confucian classics. These titles are sometimes curious, but always literary. Since it takes at least two words to make an unmistakable title, and since, in a speech of Shun, the Book of History contains the phrase "my forester," Wang Mang entitled one of his officials, the My Forester. The Chinese phrase, because of the cryptic nature of Chinese words, does not openly convey the nonsensical connotation of the English, but the meaning is exactly as I have translated it. In the titles of his generals, magical connotations seem to have overbalanced purely literary ones; Wang Mang seems indeed to have relied largely upon his literary-magical titles for military success. That was a legitimate conclusion from the strain of Confucianism he had imbibed.
Towards the end of his reign, the grandiose tendency of literary titles resulted in the multiplication of generalissimos and commanders-in-chief, a tendency continued in the early days of the Later Han dynasty. Indeed, Wang Mang's literary titles made such an impression on his age that the rebels against him imitated his titles. They were in good Confucian tradition.
The doctrine of the Five Powers
Two historical circumstances were responsible for convincing intelligent people that Wang Mang should take the throne. These were the philosophical doctrine of the five elements and certain historical events that led people to believe the Han dynasty must inevitably end. This philosophical theory was not the creation of a single person or age, but changed radically during Han times. Its various forms each influenced history, so it deserves careful study.
A cyclical theory of history is natural in any early philosophy. Greece too, in the philosophies of Empedocles and others, possessed such cyclical theories. The five Chinese elements, earth, wood, metal, fire, and water, seem to have come from popular thought. Tsou Yen, in the first half of the third century B.C., made them into a cyclical succession which constituted a philsophy of history. As one element or power becomes victorious over another, the dynasty upheld by that power conquers its predecessor dynasty. Each power has its color, its appropriate month for its New Year's day, its number, its note, etc. The victory of a new power exhibits itself by supernatural portents, so that the dominant power can be determined by historical events. Hsün-tzu had interpreted the Confucian supreme deity, Heaven, as an impersonal Nature; the succession of the elements came to be considered a law of Nature. It explained the succession of dynasties and, like natural laws today, was thought to enable the prediction of future events---in this case, the next dynasty. This doctrine soon became popular and was taught instead of the earlier Confucian doctrine that a dynasty falls because of its moral inadequacies. In a period of constant civil war, this earlier Confucian theory had little empirical confirmation. In Han times, Tsou Yen's theory was taken into Confucian thought and secured wide acceptance.
The Chou dynasty, because of the red crow that appeared to King Wu (Book of History, Legge, II, 298) was considered to have had the virtue of fire, hence the Ch'in First Emperor adopted the virtue of water, for water conquers (quenches) fire. He adopted the corresponding month for his New Year's. But the Ch'in dynasty ruled China for only fifteen years, a time much too brief for the period a power rules, if the Chou period is taken as typical. The Han dynasty located its capital near the destroyed Ch'in capital; the last Ch'in ruler surrendered his insignia and authority to the Eminent Founder of the Han dynasty; the latter accordingly assumed that he took over the Ch'in dynasty's power of water, whose color is black. He established a temple to the Black Lord, thus increasing the number of Lords on High to five (25 A: 17b). Down to the end of the Former Han period, Palace Attendants wore black sables (98: 15a). Until the time of Emperor Wen, this theory held the field. It was championed by Emperor Kao's paladin, who became Emperor Wen's learned Lieutenant Chancellor, Chang Ts'ang.
Some other learned men were not however satisfied. A change in the dynasty indicates a change in the ruling power; earth conquers (dykes) water just as the Han dynasty conquered the Ch'in. Hence the Han dynasty should change its New Year's day, the colors of court robes, etc., to those corresponding to earth. So reasoned Chia Yi. Kung-sun Ch'en even predicted that a yellow dragon would appear to manifest what was the dynasty's virtue. Earth is yellow. In 165 B.C., a yellow dragon did appear---Chang Ts'ang was accordingly dismissed and Kung-sun Ch'en was made an Erudit. He however fell into disgrace through being connected with the charlatan, Hsin-Yüan P'ing, and his proposed change in the dynastic institutions was dropped. Only in 104 B.C. did Emperor Wu officially adopt the color yellow and the power earth as Han imperial institutions (6:31b).
Meanwhile there had been other developments in this cyclical philosophy of history. Tung Chung-shu (ca. 175 -- ca. 105 B.C.) proposed a tripartite succession (san-t'ung) of red, black, and white, which three were supposed to succeed each other concomitantly with the five powers. Emperor Wu's New Year's day was fixed in the first month in accordance with this theory.
During the peaceful decades in the early part of the Han period, Confucians moreover came to give more attention to the ancient legendary lords, Fu-hsi, Sheng-nung, the Yellow Lord, Chuan-hsü, K'u Yao, and Shun. These lords did not succeed each other by conquest. Each one was said to have resigned the throne to his successor. A cyclical theory that the powers conquer each other does not fit a history which includes such peaceful changes of dynasties. Tung Chung-shu accordingly suggested a theory by which the five powers each produces its successor: wood produces fire, that produces earth (ashes), that produces (mines) metal, that produces (melts into) water (liquid), that produces (nourishes) wood (vegetation), and so on. His Ch'un-ch'iu Fan-lu contains both this theory and the earlier one that each power conquers its predecessor, but he himself plainly favored the other theory of production. Through his influence it came to be accepted widely. It found a place in the "Explanation of the Trigrams (Shuo-kua)" (Legge, Yi King, App. V), which was "discovered" during 73-49 B.C. Thus it was given classical confirmation. Liu Hsiang(4a) developed it and gave it the weight of his great influence, so that it came to be the only one given serious consideration during the latter part of the Former Han period. The Han dynasty was now given the virtue of fire, which was supported by the story of the Eminent Founder being the son of the Red Lord (1 A: 7a). Down to 91 B.C., the imperial credentials were pure red (66: 3b), possibly because Liu Chi, when he first arose, anointed his drums with blood (1 A: 9b). Since the Ch'in dynasty had ruled for such a short period, this dynasty was considered to have achieved its conquest without securing the Mandate of Heaven and without the assistance of a power in the regular cycle. The Ch'in dynasty then constituted an intercalary period. The Han dynasty was considered to have succeeded the Chou dynasty, to the latter of which was now given the virtue of wood. The ancient lords and the three ancient dynasties were each given their appropriate power in the cyclical succession and ancient history was explained thereby. In this way, the succession of dynasties was made to appear as inevitable and natural as the succession of the seasons (cf. Ku Chieh-kang, Ku-shih-pien, V, 404-617).
Liu Hsiang(4a) was a loyal member of the imperial clan. He opposed the influence of the Wang clan so strongly that he was never given high office. This theory of dynastic succession was then not originally intended to aid Wang Mang. It however aided mightily in bringing him to the throne.
This theory made intelligent people think that a change in the dynasty was inevitable. The succession of the powers moreover made them think it would be possible to predict the next dynasty. Fire produces earth. The Wang clan claimed descent from the Yellow Lord, who had the virtue of earth. This genealogy almost certainly antedated Wang Mang; it seems to have been merely a noble clan's attempt to exalt itself by claiming divine descent. There were other clans also claiming descent from this mythical ruler. The Wang clan however dominated the government for over three decades, so that it became only natural for people to point to this clan when they talked about the next dynasty.
Astrology and prognostication also played a part in this speculation. Generations before the Wang clan ever appeared at court, Lu Wen-shu's (fl. 73 B.C.) great-uncle had calculated by astrology that after a period of three times seven decades of years, the Han dynasty would end (cf. 99 A: n. 34.5). During the reign of Emperor Ch'eng, Ku Yung, a famous exponent of the Book of Changes and interpreter of portents revived this prediction. This period of 210 years would end in A.D. 4. When, in 12 B.C., there was an eclipse of the sun on New Year's day, followed by thunder without clouds in May and the appearance of Halley's comet in the autumn, the court became greatly exercised. Shun-Yü Chang, an imperial maternal relative, was sent to secure Ku Yung's interpretation. The latter replied that the number of portents during the last twenty years was greater than in the Spring and Autumn period or during the regins of all the preceding Han emperors; the period of three sevens of decades was coming to an end; and the lot indicated by the hexagram wu-wang (then meaning "hopelessness") was coming up. He went on to intimate that the essence of the power earth was being born (85: 15b-16b). His memorial made a deep impression in the court. Thus in 12 B.C., there was already a general belief among intelligent persons that the Han dynasty's period was coming to an end.
When moreover Emperors Ch'eng, Ai, and P'ing died without natural heirs, people naturally saw in this extraordinary circumstance Heaven's plain intention to end the dynasty. There could indeed be hardly any surer manifestation that the supernatural powers intended to end a dynasty than that three of its rulers should in succession all have left no heir. The death of Emperor P'ing at the end of the Chinese year beginning in A.D. 5 was naturally interpreted as a confirmation of Lu Wen-shu's great-uncle's prophecy. The count of years in Emperor Kao's reign had been begun before he had even become a king (1 A: 26b); it could easily be maintained that he began one year too early. If so, Emperor P'ing died at precisely the end of the dynasty's two hundred and tenth year. People naturally concluded that the virtue of fire had expired and the virtue of earth was arising by the inexorable operation of Heaven's cyclical natural law.
Yao and Shun had each resigned the throne to his greatest minister. Wang Mang came from a clan that had now controlled the government for many decades; he himself had been raised to previously unprecedented honors. He was descended from the Yellow Lord and possessed the virtue of earth. He had done all he could to maintain the Han dynasty on the throne, but nevertheless all these events had happened. He had not been responsible for the succession of coincidences that had occurred or the philosophical theory by which they were interpreted. History runs in cycles. The laws of Heaven cannot be evaded. People naturally drew the conclusion that history was repeating itself and that Heaven had destined Wang Mang to inaugurate a new dynasty under the rule of the power earth.
The depth and sincerity of this political consequence drawn from philosophical principles is shown by the fact that it was shared by members of the Liu imperial clan itself, especially after Wang Mang's victory over Chai Yi's formidable rebellion had given apparent empirical confirmation to the belief that Wang Mang possessed the mandate of Heaven. The famous Liu Hsin(1a), who was a descendant of Liu Chiao, Emperor Kao's younger brother, actively assisted Wang Mang to take the throne. Liu Ching(4b), a descendant of Emperor Wu, presented one of the crucial portents, urging Wang Mang to take the throne (99 A: 34a, b). Liu Kung(2), a first cousin of Liu Hsin(1a), also presented a portent (99 B: 14a). When Liu K'uai rebelled against Wang Mang, his brother, Liu Yin(2), a descendant of Emperor Ching, resisted and defeated the insurrection (99 B: 7b, 8a). Altogether some thirty-two members of the Han imperial clan either presented portents to Wang Mang, offered congratulatory sayings, or arrested and informed on rebels against him. These persons and their families were granted the new imperial surname, Wang, so that they were continued in their nobilities (99 B: 14a). Some of these persons were, of course, mere sycophants, seeking continued enjoyment of their fiefs, but there were honest persons among them. If then even members of the Han imperial clan were convinced, it is not surprising that intelligent persons generally accepted Wang Mang's legitimacy. The famous writers of the day all accepted Wang Mang. Huan T'an assisted Wang Mang at the time of Chai Yi's rebellion, by publishing abroad Wang Mang's apologia, and in reward was enfeoffed as a Vassal (84: 17a). The philosopher, Yang Hsiung(2), who cared not for fame or disciples and spent his energy solely in elaborating his philosophy, wrote mandates through portents for Wang Mang (87 B: 22b). Most of the Confucians seem to have approved of Wang Mang's succession, for this seemed to be Heaven's will.
Once there was such a general expectation of Wang Mang's succession to the throne and once portents of that event were expected, it was only natural that those individuals who were bolder than others should have manufactured what was required. The first portent came in the same month that Emperor P'ing died and was offered by an official ranking next to the high ministers (99 A: 25a). After Chai Yi had been defeated, portents began to appear more frequently, until at last there were more than a dozen (99 B: 9a-10b), whereupon Wang Mang finally ascended the throne.
I do not think that Wang Mang instigated any of these portents in even as indirect a manner as he instigated the coming of the white pheasant in A.D. 1. My chief reason is that it would have been quite unnecessary for him to have done so. He had carefully weeded out of his court all those who might oppose him. His courtiers were sensitive to his feelings. They knew he was intensely ambitious and they had helped him by indirect means to secure his unusual honors, being amply rewarded for doing so. After he controlled the government and had attained his unusual titles, there was only one honor really greater than those he had received, so that when the opportunity offered itself, his courtiers, as previously, spontaneously continued to flatter his ambition.
It is furthermore worthy of note that Ai Chang's portent, which was the decisive one, upset Wang Mang's plans considerably. On Jan. 6, A.D. 9, upon the receipt of some portents, he memorialized the Grand Empress Dowager, asking to be entitled Acting Emperor and to change the year-period to Ch'u-shih, saying that he would rear the Young Prince of the Han dynasty, Liu Ying, and return the government to him when he was grown (99 A: 34a-35a). Two days later, on Jan. 8, Ai Chang's portent arrived, and it was accepted on Jan. 9 or 10 (99 A: 35b and n. 35.12), whereupon Wang Mang took the throne. Ai Chang's portent completely upset the whole situation, so that it can hardly have been planned by Wang Mang.
We have no means of knowing Wang Mang's own attitude to these portents, whether he actively welcomed them or whether he was surprised. At least he was not displeased. If he had been a doggedly faithful servant of the Han dynasty, he would have arrested and executed Hsieh Hsiao and Meng T'ung, who presented the first portent (99 A: 25a), as he had treated Tung Hung (99 A: 2b), and there would have been no more portents. When, instead, he had the portent reported to the Grand Empress Dowager, probably without any comment of his own, he let it be known to the court that he was not displeased and gave his courtiers time to make up their minds about such matters. The general opinion in the court undoubtedly became favorable to Wang Mang's advancement, so that other persons were naturally stimulated to present their portents. They knew they had nothing to lose by so doing, and might secure boundless rewards.
It is quite possible that Wang Mang did not at first really want to take the throne. He waited three full years from the time of the first portent until he finally accepted the post those portents declared was his. Confucian sentiment honored the capable minister far more than the prince; Wang Mang had been promoted to the status of a Duke of Chou, the person whom Confucius had taken as his ideal character. If Wang Mang had finally refused the throne and maintained his position as a minister, he might well have come down in history as the greatest of ancient statesman, a man who outshone even Kao-yao, Yi Yin, and the Duke of Chou. But he loved power and knew what it was to have that power completely shorn from him and to be sent away to his estate in the provinces, with no prospects of further advancement. His lack of honors in his youth had made him intensely ambitious. And so, when his courtiers kept urging him, by renewed portents, to take the throne, he at last yielded to their proddings and accepted the dangerous honor. Thus his delay of three years in accepting the throne may have represented, not merely the proper Confucian modesty, but a real hesitation on his own part. Pan Ku says that in the autumn of A.D. 8 he at last plotted to secure the throne; that judgment may well be correct. Ts'ao Ts'ao (155-220 A.D.), in similar circumstances, benefited by Wang Mang's experience and never actually took the throne, although he wielded the imperial power. Wang Mang was a Confucian minister who put his minions into office and allowed them to persuade him, when the opportunity patently offered itself, to take the throne.
Reasons for Wang Mang's fall
It remains to discuss the reasons for Wang Mang's fall. Undoubtedly the most important cause was the weather. Wang Mang seems to have come upon a period of severe droughts, which were quite as bad as those in 1876-9. The resultant social confusion, brought to fruition by failure in government, caused widespread unrest, rebellion, and his fall.
(1) Wang Mang's whole reign seems to have been a time of poor harvests. In an edict of A.D. 20, he says that since he ascended the throne, there had several times been withering droughts, plagues of locusts and caterpillars, and the harvests of grain had been sparse and lacking, so that the people had suffered from famine (C: 8a). In A.D. 11, there was a famine at the northwestern borders (94 B: 19a). In A.D. 14, there was another famine at the borders, so severe that people took to cannibalism (99 B: 26a). The most severe droughts occurred in the years A.D. 18-22, the years immediately preceding Wang Mang's fall. In A.D. 18, there was a famine in Lang-yeh Commandery (southeastern Shantung), at which time the Red Eyebrows arose (99 C: 4b). This famine continued for several years. By A.D. 20, there was already considerable vagabondage: "In Ch'ing and Hsü Provinces [present Shantung and Kiangsu], many of the common people left their villages and hamlets and wandered about as vagabonds. The aged and weak died on the roads and paths, and the vigorous entered the robber bands" (99 C: 5b). In that year, there was a prolonged rain for sixty days at the capital (99 C: 9b), but in A.D. 21, there was a great famine in Honan and east China (99 C: 12b). In that year, east of Lo-yang, grain was 2000 cash per picul, about twenty-five times its normal price (99 C: 16a). In the spring of A.D. 22, east of Shensi, there was cannibalism (99 C: 17a). In that summer, the locusts even invaded Ch'ang-an, where they crawled about the palaces (99 C: 18a). Several hundred thousand refugges came to Shensi from the east, but famine relief in Shensi itself was inadequate and mismanaged, so that 70% to 80% of these refugees starved (99 C: 18a). At the same time, there was a famine in the middle Yangtze valley (Nan-yang Commandery; HHS, An. 1 A: 2a). Thus the climatic cycle made Wang Mang's later years a period of extreme stress and strain. Had there been consistently good seasons in Wang Mang's reign, as there were during the reign of Emperor Hsüan, he might have kept his throne and successfully founded another dynasty.
At the same time there was famine in the capital region itself (Kuan-chung, central Shensi). The plain in central Shensi north of the Wei River had been irrigated by some famous canals, the first of which was dug by the engineer Cheng Kuo in 237 B.C. This first canal had its intake in the ancient Ku-k'ou prefecture, not far from the place where the Ching River emerges from the mountains. North of that place, the river runs through a gorge cut in limestone; south of it the river runs through soft deep loess. This canal was planned to irrigate a region of 40,000 ch'ing (186,000 acres, 300 sq. miles), but it is doubtful if the canal was originally built on as large a scale. In 111 B.C., six subsidiary canals were dug, and in 95 B.C. at the suggestion of a Mr. Po (or Pai 白), another canal was dug nearly 200 li in length. This canal irrigated an additional 4500-odd ch'ing (20,925 acres). 1 These canals were responsible for the strength of the Ch'in state and for the economic importance of Ch'ang-an in Former Han times. It was the one region in northern China where there were no droughts or famines. The grain in the Great Granary at Ch'ang-an was untouched for over a century, so that it became rotten and could not be eaten (HS 24 A: 15b).
The Ching River, after it leaves the mountains, flows through soft loess to the place where it joins the Wei River. It has a considerable gradient. Erosion dug the bed of this River deeper and deeper, until the intake of these canals finally drew less and less. At first, they drew an inadequate amount of water or none at all except in times of flood, and finally they drew no water at all. At present the original intake of these canals is about sixty feet above the river level. 2 The intake for the canal of 95 B.C. was placed somewhat higher up the river than the original intake. But continued erosion caused this intake, too, to become useless.
We are not told when these canals ceased operating. Li Tao-Yüan (vi cent.), in his Shui-ching-chu, says they were then dry. In all probability, they ceased to draw an adequate supply of water in Wang Mang's time. On June 2, A.D. 16, the banks of the Ching River collapsed at the Ch'ang-p'ing Lodge (99 B: 29b), which was located about half-way between the intake of the canals and the Wei River. (In 35 B.C., an earthquake had previously caused these banks to collapse [9: 12a], and on May 7, 25 B.C., the high bank of this River had collapsed in Ch'ang-ling Prefecture [10: 6a], not far from the junction of this River with the Wei.) At this time, erosion had already dug the bed of the River so deep that its sides caved in---in all probability, the canals were then already useless except when there was a flood on the Ching River. Only forty miles from its junction with the Wei, the Ching River flows through the mountains in a deep gorge cut into the rock, so that the intake of any irrigation canals could not be moved further upstream with the means of digging then available.
The result was bound to be famine in the capital area itself. Hence the Ch'ang-an area became economically less important than the Yellow River area in northern Honan, and Wang Mang talked of moving his capital to Lo-yang (where Emperor Kuang-wu later actually located his capital). Already at the time of Chai Yi's rebellion (A.D. 7), there were robbers in Kuan-chung; in A.D. 21 there was so much trouble in that reg in the summer of A.D. 22, there was famine even in Ch'ang-an itself (99 C: 18a). The failure of this canal, and the impossibility of relocating it, was another cause for Wang Mang's fall.
In A.D. 11, the Yellow River caused a great flood and changed its course; because it seemed to have found an easier outlet to the ocean, no attempt was made to check it (99 B: 18a), especially because Wang Mang's own ancestral area was thus protected from further floods. The climatic cycle and failure in irrigation was the most important factor in Wang Mang's fall.
H. Bielenstein, The Restoration of the Han Dynasty, pp. 145-153, argues that Wang Mang's fall was ultimately caused by this change in the course of the Yellow River. He has established the importance of this factor. But other factors were equally and more important.
(2) North China is a region of recurrent droughts; it was recognized in ancient times that a drought was to be expected every six or seven years on an average, and the government maintained granaries for such occurrences. Hence ordinary famines would not cause widespread suffering unless at the same time the government was inefficient. A famine year was really a time when the competence of the government was tested. The real cause for Wang Mang's fall was the failure of his government to meet the strains put upon it.
It should not be thought that Wang Mang's time was a period of gtances seem to indicate that the period of cultural advance during Former Han times was coming to flower in an age of unusual progress. We are told that the study of anatomy was being pushed to the extent of human dissection (99 B: 30b), and that geometrical proportion was used in architectural design (99 C: 9a). Most interesting of all is the brief and cryptic account of an attempt at aviation in A.D. 19 ---the earliest account in human history of an actual flight that was not mythology (99 C: 5a). The carriage with flowery baldachins (99 C: 13b, 14a) was an outstanding mechanical achievement. It may well be the case that Wang Mang's Nine Ancestral Temples were more magnificent than anything previously erected (99 C: 9b).
But Wang Mang's government exhibited many signs of widespread corruption. During the reign of Emperor Ch'eng, when his uncles controlled the government, corruption was rife. Wang Mang came to the throne by fraudulent portents, and so needed officials who would countenance fraud, with the result that they countenanced fraudulent reports on the part of their subordinates (99 C: 15b), and the government became permeated with corruption (99 B: 27a). Wang Mang himself publicly confessed that some officials would extort ransoms from innocent persons by illegally condemning them as slaves and removing the sentence upon payment of a bribe. Yet he was powerless to stop this practise (99 B: 17b). That the outrageous T'ang Tsun should have become his minister is only natural.
(3) Wang Mang enacted some very unwise administrative measures. Emperor Wu had established Inspectors of Regional Divisions, ranking at only 600 piculs, who were really spies of the central government, traveling about the commanderies, reporting upon the rule of the Administrators for those commanderies (who ranked at 2000 piculs). The Confucians did not like this unhierarchical arrangement, by which a lower-ranking official supervised a higher-ranking one; in 7 B.C., when Wang Mang first came to power, the title and rank of these Inspectors were changed to that of Provincial Shepherd (an ancient name), so that names should correspond to reality. Emperor Ai changed these officials' titles back again to Inspector; in 1 B.C., Wang Mang again entitled them Shepherds, ranking them the same as the highest ministers. But now these Shepherds lost much of their incentive for careful supervision of their provinces. Inspectors had previously hoped that they might be promoted to the post of Administrator, if they did careful and honest work; the Shepherds could now be promoted only to one of the ministerial offices, among which there were very few openings. The result was that they were content to do little and merely held their positions (99 C: 10b). Consequently, in A.D. 21, Wang Mang was driven by the inefficiency of the provincial governments to appoint Shepherd's Superintendents and Associate Shepherds, who were to do the work previously done by the Inspectors. But it was now too late to reform a corrupt government.
Wang Mang knew how subordinates could thwart their superior, he had detailed ideas about what should be done in government, and he was suspicious of his associates. Consequently he did not give his ministers the power to decide matters themselves, but had every decision referred to himself. Since the ministers thus found themselves merely executive officers, they ceased to feel any responsibility for their offices and merely transmitted business to Wang Mang, awaiting his orders.
He was especially suspicious of his private secretaries, the Masters of Writing, who could control the government by withholding the information which came to the throne in the form of memorials. Hence he permitted eunuchs and members of his entourage to open and read memorials to the throne, with the result that memorials sometimes never even reached the Masters of Writing and were not dealt with in proper fashion.
The most important feature in government, according to Confucius' supposed teaching, was the rectification of names; if that were done, all governmental difficulties would automatically be solved. Wang Mang hence deliberated long and profoundly on geographical arrangements, rites, and music, endeavoring to make them accord with classical precedents. From dawn to dark, he discussed these matters with his ministers. He himself was a learned Confucian, the first such literatus to be on the throne; he surrounded himself with the best scholars he could find. But the classical precedents were by no means unambiguous, many matters were treated only implicitly in the Classics, and there were good arguments both for and against most decisions. Wang Mang was not like Emperor Wu, a dilettante who could blithely decide out of his own consciousness such a weighty matter as the proper rites for the important imperial sacrifices fengand shan. Wang Mang was a thoroughly conscientious man, who felt the importance of properly determining each matter. Hence his discussions with his ministers and advisors were interminable. Since no one else could make the final decision about precisely how classical precedents should be applied, Wang Mang had to decide these matters himself. After he had decided, he would change his mind again and again. In the case of some place-names, in his anxiety to get them exactly right, he changed them as much as five times, finally returning to the original name! (99 B: 25a, b) In addition, he had himself to decide on the multifarious details of an autocratic government. He worked all night at his documents, but even then he was unable to keep up with the government business.
The result was, as Pan Ku says (99 B: 26b-27b), that, since Wang Mang had little leisure to examine matters conscientiously, and yet was determined to do so, law-cases were not decided for years, prisoners were not released from prison except when there was an amnesty, vacancies in the government were not filled with permanent occupants for years, and the government in general could do little except routine work. Corruption could not be checked and things went from bad to worse. The ruler was too conscientious and too suspicious to delegate power and the governmental duties were too multifarious for him to manage.
As a result of such an eager concern about general principles, Wang Mang was led to make serious mistakes in particular matters. When the famine in the east was at its hight and the bandits were even capturing cities, Wang Mang decided that they must be put down at all costs. The man he had put over the Shepherds of that region protested (99 C: 16a), but nevertheless, in A.D. 22, Wang Mang sent 100,000 troops into the famine regions. The granaries were empty and could not feed them, so the troops foraged among the people, with dire results. It is not surprising that the people found the troops a greater calamity than the bandits, for the soldiers, under the guise of protecting the people, took what little food was left. The curious verse quoted in 99 C: 17b probably represents a mild version of what the people felt.
Wang Mang furthermore enacted into a systematized law the procedure, begun by Emperor Hsüan, of reducing official salaries at a time of drought or calamity. He made the various officials of the central court and the provinces each guarantors for a certain region. At the end of the year, when the yearly reports from the commanderies were presented, the amount of damage to the crops in each part of the empire was to be reported in percentages, and the number of dishes on the imperial table was to be reduced in proportion. At the same time, the officials guaranteeing the various sections in which there were calamities were to have their salaries reduced in proportion to the suffering in their region (99 B: 28a-29b). It was an idealistic proposal, but the result was that officials could not anticipate the amount of their salaries and income, so that they exacted fees and presents to support themselves. So bribery and corruption became general.
Wang Mang furthermore imitated a practise of Chou times, when official positions were largely hereditary. In A.D. 14, he made all his important provincial offices hereditary in the clans of his nobles (99 B: 24a). Thus he eliminated the incentive to efficient government that had been introduced by the Ch'in dynasty and continued by the Han dynasty, which regimes gave office for merit, not for family connections. Wang Mang probably thought he was doing away with another of the corruptions inherited from the Ch'in regime (6: 39a), but a more unwise measure could hardly have been conceived. As a result, he had to dismiss a noble from his title in order to get rid of a corrupt provincial official, and promotions for merit from one grade to another in the provincial government were made impossible. Wang Mang seems to have removed most of the stimuli to good government that the Ch'in and Han dynasties had laboriously set up. It is not surprising that the government in the provinces degenerated badly.
He furthermore exhibited the conceit that sometimes comes to self-made men. He did not like to listen to admonitions, and became angry when his proposals were opposed, even for the wisest reasons. Hence the people who had the best interests of the country at heart came to avoid him and he failed to learn the truth about things. He dismissed those who explained that undue taxation had produced banditry (99 C: 2b). He removed Feng Ch'ang, his Communicator (the state treasurer), because the latter protested against the state monopolies (99 C: 2a), and he dismissed a newly appointed Shepherd of the central Yangtze region, Fei Hsing, who had plans for reducing banditry by lightening the pressure of these monopolies upon his people (99 C: 3a). He even removed his best general, Chuang Yu, when the latter remonstrated against his unwise plans (99 C: 5b). As a consequence, the eunuchs, such as Wang Yeh, merely flattered Wang Mang and deceived him about the condition of the people (99 C: 18b).
(4) Wang Mang seems to have been personally stingy and publicly extravagant with government funds. He hoarded the gold he secured, and would not expend it even in an emergency (99 C: 25b). He liked to give noble titles, and at first did not give fiefs to his nobles, on the pretext that the country's geographical arrangements had not yet been settled, with the result that some of his nobles had to work for a living (99 B: 19b). Within noble estates he set up "reserved fields," nominally later to be used as fiefs for vassals, but really to economize on the incomes paid to the nobles and to reward or punish them by decreasing or increasing these reserved areas (99 B: 25a).
Wang Mang seems to have furthermore established quite a number of sinecure positions in the court. The Han dynasty had three highest ministers (kung) and nine high ministers (ch'ing); Wang Mang established four Coadjutors, three highest ministers, and four generals, making eleven officials who ranked as highest ministers (kung). The number of important subordinates to the high ministers (ch'ing) was also increased. The Han dynasty had only a few such, depending on the amount of business in each office. Such an unsymmetrical arrangement did not however suit literary Confucian ideals; Wang Mang appointed three grandees and nine Officers of the First Rank to each one of the nine highest ministers, making 27 and 81 respectively of these two grades. He also instituted seven grandees whose duty it was to admonish the emperor (99 B: 4a), Directors of Mandates from the Five Majestic Principles, whose duty it was to spread propaganda, and four Masters, four Companions and nine Libation Officers to the Heir-apparent, all of whom ranked the same as the highest of the high ministers. These additional salaries must have been quite expensive.
Outside the capital, Wang Mang increased the number of commanderies from 103 to 125 and the number of prefectures from 1314 to 2203 (28 Bii: 48b; 99 B: 25a), with a corresponding increase in the number of administrative officials and in the cost of administration. He frequently sent out commissioners and others to supervise the administration. In A.D. 11, he sent out 55 Generals of the Gentlemen-at-the Palace and 55 Administrators of the Laws Clad in Embroidered Garments to control the large commanderies along the border (99 B: 17a). His commissioners followed each other on the roads, one after another, sometimes ten chariots-full a day; when the public granaries and post-stations could no longer supply their needs, these commissioners forcibly took horses, carriages, and supplies from the people along the road (99 C: 7a).
Wang Mang also greatly expanded his nobility. In the time of Emperor Wu, before the great purge, there had been some twenty kings and about two hundred marquises (HFHD, ch. vi, app. III); in A.D. 12, Wang Mang had already appointed 796 nobles of the first five ranks (who corresponded to the kings and marquises of Han times). In addition there were Baronesses and Vassals (99 B: 19b). Thus Wang Mang's nobility must have been a great drain upon the empire, even though he did not give his nobles the full amount of their allowances.
(5) Perhaps Wang Mang's greatest extravagance was his military expeditions. Emperor Wu had flailed the Huns until, after his death, they were glad to submit and make peace with the Chinese; he had attacked the barbarians in all directions, so that eventually the border peoples recognized the might of the Chinese and kept the peace. Wang Mang upset this peace in the interests of a Confucian imitation of ancient practises. The Han rulers followed the Ch'in practise of calling themselves emperors, consequently they could entitle the rulers of neighboring vassal states kings, just as their own greatest vassals were entitled kings. But, at the beginning of the Chou period, the ruler had entitled himself king and his greatest nobles were only dukes, so Wang Mang followed the Confucian precept, "Heaven has not two suns nor has Earth two kings" (Mencius V, i, iv, 1 attributes this saying to Confucius), and degraded all his highest nobles to be dukes. They accepted the change of title without a murmur, for they knew it was a change in name only. When however Wang Mang came to change similarly the titles of his barbarian vassals, trouble ensued. They did not understand the necessity of conforming to Confucian principles, became suspicious, and felt insulted. Eventually the Huns, the Kao-chü-li in the present Manchuria, the petty states in the Western Frontier Regions, and those in Szechuan and Yünnan all revolted, and Wang Mang had to face border raids and war in all directions.
The worst trouble was with the Huns. When Shan-Yü Hu-han-hsieh had come to submit to Emperor Hsüan, the latter had treated him as a guest, had ranked him above all the Chinese nobles, and had given him an imperial seal as his sign of office, with the word hsi (denoting an imperial seal) in its inscription. Emperor Hsüan was not Confucian enough to esteem correct terminology above the establishment of friendly relations with a neighboring state. Wang Mang's envoys carried to the Shan-Yü a new seal bearing the Hsin dynasty's name, with the word chang (which was used for a noble or official seal) in its inscription. The Shan-Yü unsuspectingly made the exchange; afterwards, when the seal was read to him, he thought the Emperor's intention was to degrade him to be a mere noble, ranking below the Chinese vassal kings, and asked to have his old seal back. But the senior Lieutenant to the Chinese envoy had thoughtfully smashed the old seal. As a result of this deed and some other disagreements, the Huns raided the Chinese borders, capturing countless prisoners (to be sold as slaves) and animals, welcomed and shielded Chinese rebels against Wang Mang, and the Shan-Yü announced that he owed allegiance to the Han dynasty, not to the Hsin dynasty.
Wang Mang now declared war and planned a grandiose attack, which would send twelve armies by different routes simultaneously into Hun territory, numbering altogether 300,000 men, carrying provisions for 300 days. He would overthrow this Shan-Yü and divide his territory among fifteen Shan-Yü. But General Chuang Yu replied, with the carefulness of a staff officer, that 300 days' provisions would require 18 hu (10 bushels or 36 liters) of grain per man, which amount could only be transported by oxen; that the border commanderies could not furnish so much grain, so that it would take more than a year to collect and transport it from the parts of the empire from which it could be secured; that an ox would need 20 hu more grain; that, since Hun territory was lacking in water and grass, experience had shown that within 100 days all the oxen would be dead, while the balance of the provision could not be carried by men, so that it would be best to send a light expedition in order to come up with the rapidly moving Huns.
Wang Mang would not heed, and in A.D. 10, he ordered the expedition to be formed. The result was that large numbers of men collected at the borders, where they waited for their provisions. Having inadequate shelter and provisions, they foraged among the Chinese of those regions. But there had been a famine and scarcity in the northwestern borders (94 B: 19a); the result was that the farmers of the borders left their homes and scattered. The armies never started out and the men merely encamped at the border. Wang Mang had to maintain some 200,000 guards at the borders, who tyrannized over the people, with the result that the farmers turned robbers and raided neighboring commanderies. It took more than a year to put down these robbers and by that time the border commanderies were practically empty (99 B: 27b). In A.D. 19, he summoned an army and levied taxes for another expedition against the Huns, planning to put Hsü-pu Tang on the Hun throne. Chuang Yu's sound arguments led to the army not being sent out, and Wang Mang had to content himself with dismissing Chuang Yu (99 C: 4b-5b). In A.D. 21, Wang Mang had grain and currency worth millions of cash transported to the borders to prepare for an expedition against the Huns. But the expedition never started out (99 C: 12b). Wang Mang squandered his people's livelihood and lives in an attempt to secure an empty fame.
A similar result eventuated on the southwestern borders, with even greater wastage of men and wealth. By A.D. 16, all the border dependencies had broken from their allegiance to the Chinese. Wang Mang showed the typical learned Confucian's inability to understand peoples who possess a different cultural tradition and he was not sufficiently teachable to learn how to employ military force efficiently.
(6) Like all rulers who think of themselves as great, Wang Mang entertained grandiose plans of various sorts. In A.D. 12, he planned a grand tour to the east, and an order was dispatched that 450,000 rolls of silk should be collected to defray its cost. Only half of this amount arrived, so the expedition was put off (99 B: 21b). Wang Mang believed he had succeeded to the throne by virtue of the power earth, which was equated, not with one of the four directions, but with the center, so he concluded that he should make his capital at the center of the earth, and fixed upon Lo-yang, the ancient capital of the Chou dynasty. In A.D. 14, he proposed to make four less expensive tours in the four directions, and afterwards go to Lo-yang (99 B: 22a, b). He was again dissuaded from making these tours, and put off the change of the capital to a date seven years later. Meanwhile he sent two ministers to build palaces, temples, and altars at Lo-yang. In A.D. 20, he also spent some ten billions of cash in building his Nine Ancestral Temples near Ch'ang-an (99 C: 10a). In A.D. 23, when rebellion became serious, he exhibited his nonchalance by marrying a second time, sending the bride's family as betrothal presents the sum of 30,000 catties of actual gold (235,347 troy oz. or 7,320,000 g.; 99 C: 20a).
(7) With such heavy and unusual expenses, it is not surprising that Wang Mang should have resorted to depreciating the currency, making government monopolies out of especially profitable enterprises, and increasing the taxes. These and other economic measures are discussed elsewhere (cf. App. II). In so far as they were not soon rescinded, they represented increased burdens upon the people. Wang Mang seems to have drained the country's wealth. The suffering drove great hordes of people to banditry and rebellion, until even the people of the capital hated him so much that they were anxious to kill him and restore the Han dynasty to the throne.
(8) Wang Mang mistreated his own relatives and followers, so that he did not secure the permanent and unchallengeable loyalty of any group. He did not execute his Lieutenant Chancellors, as Emperor Wu had done, but he remained severe towards all, so that no one could permanently count on his favor and he could trust no one completely.
In his own family, he seems to have been the stern and strict father, who sacrifices his family to his own ambition. He executed three of his four legitimate sons: his eldest, Yü, because of an intrigue that opposed his own plans (99 A: 16b); his second, Huo, because he murdered a slave (99 A: 3b); and the third, Lin(1), because an unfortunate liaison had put him in the position where the son was afraid he would be executed if he did not first assassinate his father (99 C: 11a, b). The fourth son, An, was not quite right in his mind and died before his father (99 C: 11b). People naturally thought this series of deaths was Heaven's judgment upon Wang Mang.
Wang Mang was equally severe upon his relatives. He executed his own nephew, Kuang, because the latter had been responsible for a judicial murder (99 A: 33b). He also executed a grandson and a grand-daughter Tsung and Fang, because the first had in a silly fashion anticipated coming to the throne, by having a picture painted of himself in imperial garb and preparing other imperial paraphernalia (99 C: 3a, b), and the latter had performed black magical ceremonies against her mother-in-law and had murdered a slave to hide the matter (99 C: 3b).
In his younger days, Wang Mang, in his intrigues for power, had not spared his relatives. Shun-Yü Chang was his first cousin, and seemed likely to inherit the power Wang Mang wanted; the latter thereupon had no scruples about informing on his cousin's crimes and getting him executed (99 A: 2a). Wang Mang sent away from the court and later executed his own uncle and another first cousin, Wang Li(5) and Wang Jen, because he feared their influence with the Grand Empress Dowager (99 A: 4b, 16b).
Chen Han and his son, Feng, were Wang Mang's closest intimates, and had assisted most actively in securing for Wang Mang his unusual honors as a minister. When however Wang Mang advanced to the throne, they were not entirely pleased and were a little frightened at the prospect, for they were not overweeningly ambitious. Chen Han died in office; when Chen Feng's son, Hsün, ambitiously presented a portent ordering him to marry Wang Mang's daughter, the latter decided it was time to show his power and overawe the court. He executed Chen Feng and Chen Hsün, together with their associates, who included two sons of the famous Liu Hsin1a and his own first cousin, Wang Ch'i, a brother of the Wang Yi(5) whom he later made his Heir-apparent (99 B: 16a). A daughter of Liu Hsin(1a), Yin(3), who was the wife of Wang Mang's third son, was executed with her husband. Thus Wang Mang executed three of Liu Hsin's children.
Wang Mang in this way antagonized his own clan. While he gave them wealth and high noble rank, yet none felt secure, for they knew not when the imperial power might uproot and destroy them. His closest officials felt equally insecure. Consequently he could trust no one and was constantly suspicious, which made matters worse. Because he feared a revolt, he would not allow even his provincial Shepherds to maintain armies for bandit suppression. When he sent his generals to gather troops for use against the bandits he would not allow them to make a move without first consulting the throne. Thus the bandits and rebels could gain a firm foothold before the imperial forces were allowed to attack them.
It is hence not so surprising that in A.D. 23 another imperial first cousin, Wang Shê, should have been persuaded by astrology that Wang Mang would inevitably fall, and should have headed a conspiracy to remove the Hsin Emperor and put the Han dynasty back on the throne. He secured the cooperation of Wang Mang's Commander-in-chief and of Liu Hsin(1a). Only the fortunate disclosure of the plot and the pusillanimity of the Commander-in-chief prevented its success. Wang Shê had gone to the extreme of making out that Wang Mang was a bastard (99 C: 22b-23b). The plotters were all executed without trouble, but this plot was a severe shock to Wang Mang. Thereafter he could not eat properly nor sleep comfortably. His severity had recoiled upon his own head.
The greatest suffering of the country came, not directly from Wang Mang, but from the robber bands that came into being as an indirect result of the famine and of his rule. They went through the country, looting, pillaging, and burning. The Red Eyebrows were merely the largest of these many illiterate robber armies. They swept over North China, defeating imperial armies and capturing cities by storm, destroying as they went. At the death of Wang Mang, only the Wei-yang Palace was burnt; the rest of Ch'ang-an was undamaged. In A.D. 25, after the Keng-shih Emperor had established himself in Ch'ang-an, the Red Eyebrows arrived, plundering along their route. They had set up another Emperor; they defeated the Keng-shih Emperor's general, captured Ch'ang-an, and plundered it. The people fled the city; the Red Eyebrows had to leave when the food in the city was exhausted. Then they burnt the remainder of the city, went west and north, digging into the imperial tombs and pillaging the cities. The snow drove them back to Ch'ang-an, where at last they were defeated by a ruse. A great famine now raged in the capital region; Ch'ang-an was itself empty and waste. No one dared to show himself alone for fear of being robbed; honest men gathered in camps and cities, which they defended desperately, so that the Red Eyebrows could secure little. In the winter of 26/27, famine drove them eastwards out of Kuang-chung. Meanwhile, Emperor Kuang-wu had been putting down robbers and rebels in eastern China. He met the remnants of the Red Eyebrows with his great army, overawing them, and they meekly surrendered, transmitting to him the Han dynastic imperial seals. Pan Ku states that the population of the empire had been reduced by half (24 B: 27a). So terrible were the forces that Wang Mang let loose upon his land.
1. Cf. SC 29: 6-8 - Mh III, 523-525; Bodde, China's First Unifier, 59-60; Ch'ao-ting Chi, Key Economic Areas in Chinese History, 75-77, 83-84, 87-89; HS 29: 11b-12b; M.S. Bates, "Problems of Rivers and Canals," JAOS, 55 (1935): 304-305; S. Eliassen and O. J. Todd, "The Wei Irrigation Project in Shensi Province", China Journal, 17(1932): 170-180; Shui-ching-chu 16: 32b-33a; 19: 30a-31a, 46a; W.C. Lowdermilk and D.R. Wickes, "Ancient Irrigation in China Brought Up to Date", Scientific Monthly, 55 (Sept., 1942), 209-225.
2. Lodermilk and Wickes, op. cit., p. 211, 215.
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