CHAPTER I. THE EARLY AGES
It was in the middle of this final struggle, and when the result might still be held doubtful, that Tsin Chi Hwangti began his eventful reign. When he began to rule he was only thirteen years of age, but he quickly showed that he possessed the instinct of a statesman, and the courage of a born commander of armies. On the one hand he sowed dissension between the most formidable of his opponents, and brought about by a stratagem the disgrace of the ablest general in their service, and on the other he increased his army in numbers and efficiency, until it became unquestionably the most formidable fighting force in China. While he endeavored thus to attain internal peace, he was also studious in providing for the general security of the empire, and with this object he began the construction of a fortified wall across the northern frontier to serve as a defense against the troublesome Hiongnou tribes, who are identified with the Huns of Attila. This wall, which he began in the first years of his reign, was finished before his death, and still exists as the Great Wall of China, which has been considered one of the wonders of the world. He was careful in his many wars with the tribes of Mongolia not to allow himself to be drawn far from his own border, and at the close of a campaign he always withdrew his troops behind the Great Wall. Toward Central Asia he was more enterprising, and one of his best generals, Moungtien, crossed what is now the Gobi Desert, and made Hami the frontier fortress of the empire.
In his civil administration Hwangti was aided by the minister Lisseh, who seems to have been a man of rare ability, and to have entered heartily into all his master's schemes for uniting the empire. While Hwangti sat on the throne with a naked sword in his hand, as the emblem of his authority, dispensing justice, arranging the details of his many campaigns, and superintending the innumerable affairs of his government, his minister was equally active in reorganizing the administration and in supporting his sovereign in his bitter struggle with the literary classes who advocated archaic principles, and whose animosity to the ruler was inflamed by the contempt, not unmixed with ferocity, with which he treated them. The empire was divided into thirty-six provinces, and he impressed upon the governors the importance of improving communications within their jurisdiction. Not content with this general precept, he issued a special decree ordering that "roads shall be made in all directions throughout the empire," and the origin of the main routes in China may be found with as much certainty in his reign as that of the roads of Europe in the days of Imperial Rome. When advised to assign some portion of his power to his relatives and high officials in the provinces he refused to repeat the blunders of his predecessors, and laid down the permanent truth that "good government is impossible under a multiplicity of masters." He centralized the power in his own hands, and he drew up an organization for the civil service of the State which virtually exists at the present day. The two salient features in that organization are the indisputable supremacy of the emperor and the non-employment of the officials in their native provinces, and the experience of two thousand years has proved their practical value.
When he conquered his internal enemies he resolved to complete the pacification of his country by effecting a general disarmament, and he ordered that all weapons should be sent in to his capital at Hienyang. This "skillful disarming of the provinces added daily to the wealth and prosperity of the capital," which he proceeded to embellish. He built one palace within the walls, and the Hall of Audience was ornamented with twelve statues, each of which weighed twelve thousand pounds. But his principal residence named the Palace of Delight, was without the walls, and there he laid out magnificent gardens, and added building to building. In one of the courts of this latter palace, it is said he could have drawn up 10,000 soldiers. This eye to military requirements in even the building of his residence showed the temper of his mind, and, in his efforts to form a regular army, he had recourse to "those classes in the community who were without any fixed profession, and who were possessed of exceptional physical strength." He was thus the earliest possessor in China of what might be called a regular standing army. With this force he succeeded in establishing his power on a firm basis, and he may have hoped also to insure permanence for his dynasty; but, alas! for the fallacy of human expectations, the structure he erected fell with him.