CHAPTER I. THE EARLY AGES
Laoutse, the founder of Taouism, was the first in point of time, and in some respects he was the greatest of these reformers. He found his countrymen sunk in a low state of moral indifference and religious infidelity which corresponded with the corruption of the times and the disunion in the kingdom. He at once set himself to work with energy and devotion to repair the evils of his day, and to raise before his countrymen a higher ideal of duty. He has been called the Chinese Pythagoras, the most erudite of sinologues have pronounced his text obscure, and the mysterious Taouism which he founded holds the smallest or the least assignable part in what passes for the religion of the Chinese. As a philosopher and minister Laoutse will always attract attention and excite speculation, but as a practical reformer and politician he was far surpassed by his younger and less theoretical contemporary Confucius.
Confucius was an official in the service of one of the great princes who divided the governing power of China among themselves during the whole of the seventh century before our era, which beheld the appearance of both of these religious teachers and leaders. He was a trained administrator with long experience when he urged upon his prince the necessity of reform, and advocated a policy of union throughout the States. His exhortations were in vain, and so far ill-timed that he was obliged to resign the service of one prince after another. In his day the authority of the Chow emperor had been reduced to the lowest point. Each prince was unto himself the supreme authority. Yet one cardinal point of the policy of Confucius was submission to the emperor, as implicit obedience to the head of the State throughout the country as was paid to the father of every Chinese household. Although he failed to find a prince after his own heart, his example and precepts were not thrown away, for in a later generation his reforms were executed, and down to the present day the best points in Chinese government are based on his recommendations. If "no intelligent monarch arose" in his time, the greatest emperors have since sought to conform with his usages and to rule after the ideal of the great philosopher. His name and his teachings were perpetuated by a band of devoted disciples, and the book which contained the moral and philosophical axioms of Confucius passed into the classic literature of the country and stood in the place of a Bible for the Chinese. The list of the great Chinese reformers is completed by the name of Mencius, who, coming two centuries later, carried on with better opportunities the reforming work of Confucius, and left behind him in his Sheking the most popular book of Chinese poetry and a crowning tribute to the great Master.
From teachers we must again pass to the chronicle of kings, although few of the later Chow emperors deserve their names to be rescued from oblivion. One emperor suffered a severe defeat while attempting to establish his authority over the troublesome tribes beyond the frontier; of another it was written that "his good qualities merited a happier day," and the general character of the age may be inferred from its being designated by the native chroniclers "The warlike period." At last, after what seemed an interminable old age, marked by weakness and vice, the Chow dynasty came to an end in the person of Nan Wang, who, although he reigned for nearly sixty years, was deposed in ignominious fashion by one of his great vassals, and reduced to a humble position. His conqueror became the founder of the fourth Chinese dynasty.
During the period of internal strife which marked the last four centuries of the Chow dynasty, one family had steadily waxed stronger and stronger among the princes of China: the princes of Tsin, by a combination of prudence and daring, gradually made themselves supreme among their fellows. It was said of one of them that "like a wolf or a tiger he wished to draw all the other princes into his claws, so that he might devour them." Several of the later Tsin princes, and particularly one named Chow Siang Wang, showed great capacity, and carried out a systematic policy for their own aggrandizement. When Nan Wang was approaching the end of his career, the Tsin princes had obtained everything of the supreme power short of the name and the right to wear the imperial yellow robes. Ching Wang, or, to give him his later name as emperor, Tsin Chi Hwangti, was the reputed great-grandson of Chow Siang Wang, and under him the fame and power of the Tsins reached their culminating point. This prince also proved himself one of the greatest rulers who ever sat on the Dragon throne of China.
The country had been so long distracted by internal strife, and the authority of the emperor had been reduced to such a shadow, that peace was welcomed under any ruler, and the hope was indulged that the Tsin princes, who had succeeded in making themselves the most powerful feudatories of the empire, might be able to restore to the central government something of its ancient power and splendor. Nor was the expectation unreasonable or ungratified. The Tsins had fairly earned by their ability the confidence of the Chinese nation, and their principal representative showed no diminution of energy on attaining the throne, and exhibited in a higher post, and on a wider field, the martial and statesmanlike qualities his ancestors had displayed when building up the fabric of their power as princes of the empire. Their supremacy was not acquiesced in by the other great feudatories without a struggle, and more than one campaign was fought before all rivals were removed from their path, and their authority passed unchallenged as occupants of the Imperial office.