CHAPTER I. THE EARLY AGES
But the most famous of Hwangti's successors was his great-grandson Yao who is still one of the most revered of all Chinese rulers. He was "diligent, enlightened, polished and prudent," and if his words reflected his actions he must have been most solicitous of the welfare of his people. He is specially remarkable for his anxiety to discover the best man to succeed him in the government, and during the last twenty-eight years of his reign he associated the minister Chun with him for that purpose. On his death he left the crown to him, and Chun, after some hesitation, accepted the charge; but he in turn hastened to secure the co-operation of another minister named Yu in the work of administration, just as he had been associated with Yao. The period covered by the rule of this triumvirate is considered one of the most brilliant and perfect in Chinese history, and it bears a resemblance to the age of the Antonines. These rulers seem to have passed their leisure from practical work in framing moral axioms, and in carrying out a model scheme of government based on the purest ethics. They considered that "a prince intrusted with the charge of a State has a heavy task. The happiness of his subjects absolutely depends upon him. To provide for everything is his duty; his ministers are only put in office to assist him," and also that "a prince who wishes to fulfill his obligations, and to long preserve his people in the ways of peace, ought to watch without ceasing that the laws are observed with exactitude." They were stanch upholders of temperance, and they banished the unlucky discoverer of the fact that an intoxicating drink could be obtained from rice. They also held fast to the theory that all government must be based on the popular will. In fact, the reigns of Yao, Chun and Yu are the ideal period of Chinese history, when all questions were decided by moral right and justice, and even now Chinese philosophers are said to test their maxims of morality by the degree of agreement they may have with the conduct of those rulers.
With them passed away the practice of letting the most capable and experienced minister rule the State. Such an impartial and reasonable mode of selecting the head of a community can never be perpetuated. The rulers themselves may see its advantages and may endeavor as honestly as these three Chinese princes to carry out the arrangement, but the day must come when the family of the able ruler will assert its rights to the succession, and take advantage of its opportunities from its close connection with the government to carry out its ends. The Emperor Yu, true to the practice of his predecessors, nominated the president of the council as his successor, but his son Tiki seized the throne, and became the founder of the first Chinese dynasty, which was called the Hia, from the name of the province first ruled by his father. This event is supposed to have taken place in the year 2197 B.C., and the Hia dynasty, of which there were seventeen emperors, ruled down to the year 1776 B.C. These Hia princes present no features of interest, and the last of them, named Kia, was deposed by one of his principal nobles, Ching Tang, Prince of Chang.
This prince was the founder of the second dynasty, known as Chang, which held possession of the throne for 654 years, or down to 1122 B.C. With the exception of the founder, who seems to have been an able man, this dynasty of twenty-eight emperors did nothing very noteworthy. The public morality deteriorated very much under this family, and it is said that when one of the emperors wanted an honest man as minister he could only find one in the person of a common laborer. At last, in the twelfth century before our era, the enormities of the Chang rulers reached a climax in the person of Chousin, who was deposed by a popular rising headed by Wou Wang, Prince of Chow.
This successful soldier, whose name signifies the Warrior King, founded the third Chinese dynasty of Chow, which governed the empire for the long space of 867 years down to 266 B.C. During that protracted period there were necessarily good and bad emperors, and the Chow dynasty was rendered specially illustrious by the appearance of the great social and religious reformers, Laoutse, Confucius and Mencius, during the existence of its power. The founder of the dynasty instituted the necessary reforms to prove that he was a national benefactor, and one of his successors, known as the Magnificent King, extended the authority of his family over some of the States of Turkestan. But, on the whole, the rulers of the Chow dynasty were not particularly distinguished, and one of them in the eighth century B.C. was weak enough to resign a portion of his sovereign rights to a powerful vassal, Siangkong, the Prince of Tsin, in consideration of his undertaking the defense of the frontier against the Tartars. At this period the authority of the central government passed under a cloud. The emperor's prerogative became the shadow of a name, and the last three centuries of the rule of this family would not call for notice but for the genius of Laoutse and Confucius, who were both great moral teachers and religious reformers.