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The sources and nature of this and the remaining "Annals"
Concerning the authorship and sources of this and the remaining chapters in the "Annals," there is little to be said. These chapters have the same characteristics as the preceding chapter---they are a chronological summary listing the important events of the reign, summarizing briefly the history to be found elsewhere in this voluminous work. The sources used by Pan Ku seem also to be the same as for the previous chapter, with the difference that Szu-ma Ch'ien died some time about the end of Emperor Wu's reign or the beginning of Emperor Chao's reign, so that the SC was not available as a source for this chapter, except for the supplementary accounts that had later been introduced into its text.
The virtual regency of Ho Kuang
This short period of only thirteen years (87-74 B.C.) was primarily a time of recuperation from the excessive drains made upon the country during the reign of Emperor Wu. The chief events of the period were the virtual regency of Ho Kuang, the attempt to overthrow him led by the Shang-kuan clan, and his relief of the people from many of the exactions made by Emperor Wu.
Emperor Wu, moreover, was an excellent judge of character; when his death was approaching, he selected his youngest son as his heir and picked Ho Kuang to control the government. There was no constitutional provision for a regency, except for one by the close rele acts of the ideal rulers and ministers recounted in ancient and recent history, especially in the Book of History, and in the deeds of Confucius' hero, the Duke of Chou. These precedents found in ancient and recent history composed the virtual constitution of the Chinese state, and the Erudits (together with the graduates of the Imperial University entitled Authorities upon Ancient Matters) were expected to be able to advise the ruler or the officials, concerning these constitutional precedents. The First Emperor of the Ch'in dynasty had proscribed and burned the Book of History because he, an autocrat, would not follow ancient practises. Emperor Wu had distrusted his own clan, and so had kept its members from any power in the imperial government; one of Ho Kuang's first deeds, after he came to power, was to appoint members of the imperial clan to government positions. Emperor Wu had made Ho Kuang Commander-in-chief and General-in-chief (one of the three highest ministers) and gave him a testamentary edict directing him to assist the young emperor. He was not made regent, but merely assistant to the young ruler. A regent not only controlled the government, but also performed many of the rites permitted to a Son of Heaven. Ho Kuang remained, in rank, merely a minister,irtual regency, the Empress of the Kao-tsu had seated herself upon the throne and ruled, but she was not entitled a regent. As a woman, she could not take the place of a man. She was merely ruling for the Emperor in the capacity of his mother. The first titular regent in Han times was Wang Mang, who in February, A.D. 6, was given an edict allowing him to perform the rites allowed to a Son of Heaven (99 A: 25b).]
Ho Kuang was a legitimate son of Ho Ch'ü-ping's father, and had probably been a close attendant upon Emperor Wu for more than twenty years. He was the ideal person for the position---quiet, steady, careful, methodical, and reliable. He is said to have had a particular place in which to stand in court and not to have varied one foot from his usual position. In addition to his other titles, he became Intendant of Affairs of the Masters of Writing, and controlled the government through this latter office.
The control exercised by the Intendant of Affairs of the Masters of Writing
The Masters of Writing (Shang-shu) were the private secretaries of the emperor. Government business came to the emperor in the form of memorials; the Masters of Writing received these memorials and brought them to the attention of the emperor. They then prepared his replies or sent the memorials to the appropriate officials for action. The emperor naturally consulted with his Masters of Writing, so that this position became an important one.
This office had been inherited by the Han from the Ch'in dynasty. Before the time of Emperor Wu, these Masters of Writing do not seem to have been important, since government business came first to the ministers, especially the Lieutenant Chancellor or Grandee Secretary, who presented their recommendations to the emperor for enactment. Emperor Wu however took to himself the actual control of the government, so that governmental affairs were brought directly to him. Hence his private secretaries became important. Emperor Wu spent a large part of his time in the harem, where the Masters of Writing, who were not eunuchs, could not go. Consequently he established a new office, that of Palace Writer (Chung-shu), a eunuch position, in order that his private secretaries could be with him even in the imperial harem. (Szu-ma Ch'ien was made a Palace Writer after his punishment; possibly one of Emperor Wu's reasons for allowing Szu-ma Ch'ien to be thus punished was to have a capable person in that office.) Because of court opposition to eunuchs, the office of Palace Writer was abolished in 29 B.C. It did not have any importance during the reign of Emperor Chao.
When matters were brought to the attention of the government, duplicates or abstracts had to be presented along with all memorials. The duplicate was opened by the Intendant of Affairs of the Masters of Writing; unless he approved the memorial, the matter was not brought to the attention of the emperor. The Intendant of Affairs could thus control the government by the simple expedient of controlling the emperor's sources of information. A vigorous emperor might break through these limitations, but the government business was so voluminous that some sifting out of unimportant matters was unavoidable and the person who did so inevitably obtained considerable control over the government. Hence the attempt to make the emperor an absolute autocrat resulted in making him dependent upon his entourage. When he was Emperor, Wang Mang worked night and day, attempting to deal in person with all government documents, but was unable to keep up with his work. Thus Emperor Wu, in making the emperor an absolute autocrat, virtually subverted the fundamental constitution of the state for himself and his successors, by taking most of the governmental power away from the Lieutenant Chancellor and the Grandee Secretary, who were supposed to head the government. The result was that this power came into the hands of whatever clique had the emperor's ear or had entrenched itself with the imperial private secretaries. After the time of Emperor Wu, the control of the government was usually held by the Intendant of Affairs of the Masters of Writing or by the Chief Palace Writer. Since these titles did not carry any high rank in the court, the Intendant of Affairs was usually made concurrently the Commander-inchief.
In his capacity as virtual regent, Ho Kuang showed himself faithful and reliable. Emperor Chao was only in his eighth year when he came to the throne in 87 B.C.; when he was in his eighteenth year, he was capped, thereby being entitled to rule in person. Ho Kuang had had the Emperor's entire confidence and the young Emperor had defended him against slander and intrigue, so the Emperor continued Ho Kuang in control of the government to the end of his reign.
The abortive intrigue against Ho Kuang
The only serious difficulty Ho Kuang had to face was a palace intrigue which threatened his life and the throne itself. Emperor Chao was Emperor Wu's youngest son. After Emperor Wu's first Heir-apparent, Liu Chü, had been killed, his next eldest living son was Liu Tan(4a), King of Yen. Liu Tan naturally expected to be made the Heir, and asked to resign his kingdom and come to the capital to attend upon Emperor Wu. The latter however resented the suggestion, executed the messenger who brought it, and later, on a legal pretext, deprived Liu Tan4a of some territory.
When Emperor Chao had been enthroned, Liu Tan(4a) naturally felt he had been cheated. To pacify him, Ho Kuang had him granted thirty million cash and the income of thirteen thousand families. But Liu Tan4a continued to be dissatisfied, and caused an ugly rumor to be circulated that Emperor Chao was not an actual son of Emperor Wu. He also made military preparations, executing those of his officials who remonstrated. Ho Kuang heard of the matter and executed Liu Tan(4a)'s agent, who had circulated the rumor.
The marriage of the youthful Emperor fanned the opposition to Ho Kuang. Closely associated with Ho Kuang in the government were Shang-kuan Chieh and Chin Mi-ti. Ho Kuang had married two of his daughters to the eldest sons of these two men. Chin Mi-ti died a year after Emperor Chao came to the throne. The new Emperor's elder half-sister, the Elder Princess of O-yi, was made the boy Emperor's nurse to care for him in the palace. She was a widow, and fell in love with a commoner, Ting Wai-jen. To please her, Ting Wai-jen was made her personal attendant. Shang-kuan Chieh and his son, Shang-kuan An, were ambitious; to secure their power, they planned to make Shang-kuan An's young daughter, who was Ho Kuang's granddaughter, the Empress. The Elder Princess had already taken a girl into the Palace to be Emperor Chao's future mate; therefore Shang-kuan Chieh and his son promised Ting Wai-jen a marquisate if he would induce the Elder Princess to have Shang-kuan An's daughter married to the Emperor. If he were a marquis, Ting Wai-jen would be able to marry the Elder Princess. Ho Kuang disapproved, thinking that the girl was too young. But the Elder Princess, being the titular mother of the Emperor, decided the matter. The girl was summoned to the Palace and married a month later. The Emperor was then in his twelfth year and the Empress in her sixth year. This marriage was disapproved by later Confucians, who criticize the ministers for lack of education and the courtiers for failing to protest against permitting a marriage before the boy was capped.
Ho Kuang now refused to make Ting Wai-jen a marquis or even to promote him. So Shang-kuan Chieh, his son, and the Elder Princess all came to have grudges against Ho Kuang. The Grandee Secretary, Sang Hung-yang, who was proud of the fiscal arrangements and government monopolies he had founded, was smarting under the criticisms made against him, with Ho Kuang's permission, by the common people recommended to office, and he joined the clique opposing Ho Kuang. They communicated with Liu Tan(4a), who sent them large presents and, at their direction, made an accusation against Ho Kuang to the Emperor. When this accusation had no effect, the clique planned to have the Elder Princess invite Ho Kuang to a feast at which he would be assassinated. Thereafter Emperor Chao would be degraded and Liu Tan4a would become emperor; or, as Shang-kuan An planned it, Liu Tan(4a) would be lured to the capital, killed, and Shang-kuan Chieh would become emperor. But a member of the Elder Princess' suite heard of the plot and Ho Kuang was informed. Shang-kuan Chieh, his son, Sang Hung-yang, and the other conspirators were executed; the Elder Princess and Liu Tan(4a) were allowed to commit suicide. Liu Tan(4a)'s sons were merely pardoned and made commoners; six years later, when Emperor Hsüan came to the throne, Ho Kuang had Liu Tan(4a)'s two younger sons made marquises and the elder son made a King. Henceforth Ho Kuang's power was unchallenged.
Ho Kuang's lightening of the people's burdens
Although Ho Kuang spent almost all of his life, from his teens on, at the court, first as Palace Attendant and finally as the actual ruler, he came from the common people and knew their sufferings. He had been trained by Emperor Wu and continued that Emperor's type of government. But the impoverished and depopulated condition of the country caused him, at the suggestion of Tu Yen-nien(a), to make one change after another, each in the direction of returning to the practises customary before the time of Emperor Wu, so that the collapse of the country, which must have been impending, was averted and recuperation was possible.
The economic reforms of Ho Kuang covered a wide range. Loans were made to poor people, payment of which was remitted; taxes were remitted in bad years; payment of taxes in kind was permitted when the price of grain became low. The forced contribution of horses was stopped. Unnecessary commanderies, unnecessary government offices, and unnecessary services required from the people were abolished. The amount of grain transported to the capital was decreased; imperial lands were distributed to the people. The poll-tax on children was lightened. Most remarkable of all was the debate held in 81 B.C. when outstanding persons from various parts of the empire were recommended for office and sent to the capital. In their civil service examination, they were asked about what the people suffered from and what the government should do, and all replied that the government monopoly of salt and iron, the monopoly of fermented liquors, and the bureau of equalization and standards (through which the government speculated in goods) should be abolished and the government should set an example of economy (24 B: 20b). The Grandee Secretary, Sang Hung-yang, who had previously established these monopolies, replied to their criticisms in a series of court discussions. A generation later Huan K'uan wrote a lively report of these discussions, the Discourses on Salt and Iron (the name of the chief monopolies), which may very likely represent, to a large extent, the principal arguments actually used, although his account makes much of literary effects. The monopolies on salt and iron were too productive of revenue to be eliminated, but the monopoly on fermented liquor was abolished and brewing was permitted to private persons upon the payment of a tax.
His conduct of foreign affairs
In foreign affairs, Ho Kuang likewise pursued the policies of Emperors Wen and Ching, that of merely defending the frontiers, instead of sending expeditions deep into enemy territory. The Huns had been worn out by Emperor Wu's many military expeditions and were glad to ask for peace with the Chinese, so that the northern borders had a chance to recuperate. In dealing with other tribes, Ho Kuang was not so happy. He manifested the same blindness and carelessness towards weak foreign tribes as that witnessed in many other excellent administrators.
Unnecessary trouble with the Wu-huan and with Lou-lan resulted. In 78 B.C., Fan Ming-yu was sent out of the northeast border to assist the Wu-huan against the Huns; when he found the Huns had withdrawn, he remembered that his orders were not to make the expedition in vain, so he attacked the friendly Wu-huan, taking more than 6200 heads, including those of three chieftains. Fan Ming-yu was made a marquis for this exploit and the Wu-huan thereafter raided the Chinese border.
In the northwest, the subject state of Lou-lan, located around the present Lop-nor, athwart the road south of the desert, had several times harassed and killed Chinese envoys. Threatened by both Chinese and Huns, its King had sent sons to both courts as hostages. This King died; the son who was at the Chinese court had been sentenced to castration for a crime, so that the Chinese did not dare to send him back, and another son was made King. This king likewise sent sons as hostages to the Chinese and Hun courts. When this king died, the son who had been at the Hun court returned home first and became King. The new King continued to harass Chinese envoys, and the King's younger brother at the Chinese court, who was pro-Chinese, reported these matters. Ho Kuang sent an envoy, Fu Chieh-tzu, with a small following, to assassinate this King. Fu Chieh-tzu lured the suspicious King to his camp by exhibiting rich presents, made him drunk, and took him to his tent by a ruse, where two soldiers stabbed him. The King's followers fled and his younger brother was brought from China and made King. The new King was given a lady of the Chinese imperial harem for his wife, and asked for a Chinese guard to protect him, so that a major with forty soldiers was sent to encamp in his capital and his state's name was changed to Shan-shan. Fu Chieh-tzu was given a small marquisate for this exploit. Two centuries later, Pan Ch'ao successfully imitated his example. In this way, although Ho Kuang was careful to treat his own people kindly, he was careless of the means for success outside the border.
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|Published by The Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, © Copyright 2003 by Anne Kinney and the University of Virginia|