CHAPTER I. THE EARLY AGES
The reign of Hwangti was not prolonged many years after the burning of the books. In 210 B.C. he was seized with a serious illness, to which he succumbed, partly because he took no precautions, and partly, no doubt, through the incompetence of his physicians. His funeral was magnificent, and, like the Huns, his grave was dug in the bed of a river, and with him were buried his wives and his treasure. This great ruler left behind him an example of vigor such as is seldom found in the list of Chinese kings of effete physique and apathetic life. He is the only Chinese emperor of whom it is said that his favorite exercise was walking, and his vigor was apparent in every department of State. On one occasion when he placed a large army of, it is said, 600,000 men at the disposal of one of his generals, the commander expressed some fear as to how this huge force was to be fed. Hwangti at once replied, "Leave it to me. I will provide for everything. There shall be want rather in my palace than in your camp." He does not seem to have been a great general himself, but he knew how to select the best commanders, and he was also so quick in discovering the merits of the generals opposed to him, that some of his most notable victories were obtained by his skill in detaching them from their service or by ruining their reputation by some intrigue more astute than honorable. Yet, all deductions made, Tsin Chi Hwangti stands forth as a great ruler and remarkable man.
The Tsin dynasty only survived its founder a few years. Hwangti's son Eulchi became emperor, but he reigned no more than three years. He was foolish enough to get rid of the general Moungtien, who might have been the buttress of his throne; and the minister Lisseh was poisoned, either with or without his connivance. Eulchi himself shared the same fate, and his successor, Ing Wang, reigned only six weeks, committing suicide after losing a battle, and with him the Tsin dynasty came to an end. Its chief, nay its only claim to distinction, arises from its having produced the great ruler Hwangti, and its destiny was Napoleonic in its brilliance and evanescence.
Looking back at the long period which connects the mythical age with what may be considered the distinctly historical epoch of the Tsins, we find that by the close of the third century before the Christian era China possessed settled institutions, the most remarkable portion of its still existing literature, and mighty rulers. It is hardly open to doubt that the Chinese annalist finds in these remote ages as much interest and instruction as we should in the record of more recent times, and proof of this may be discovered in the fact that the history of the first four dynasties, which we must dismiss in these few pages, occupies as much space in the national history as the chronicle of events from Tsin Chi Hwangti to the end of the Ming dynasty in 1644, at which date the official history of China stops, because the history of the Manchu dynasty, which has occupied the throne ever since, will only be given to the world after it has ceased to rule. We must not be surprised at this discursiveness, because the teachings of human experience are as clearly marked in those early times as they have been since, and Chinese historians aim as much at establishing moral and philosophical truths as at giving a complete record of events. The consequences of human folly and incompetence are as patent and conspicuous in those days as they are now. The ruling power is lost by one family and transferred to another because the prince neglects his business, gives himself over to the indulgence of pleasure, or fails to see the signs of the times. Cowardice and corruption receive their due and inevitable punishment. The founders of the dynasties are all brave and successful warriors, who are superior to the cant of a hypercivilized state of society, which covers declining vigor and marks the first phase of effeteness, and who see that as long as there are human passions they may be molded by genius to make the many serve the few and to build up an autocracy. Nor are the lessons to be learned from history applicable only to individuals. The faults of an emperor are felt in every household of the community, and injure the State. Indifference and obtuseness at the capital entailed weakness on the frontier and in the provincial capitals. The barbarians grew defiant and aggressive, and defeated the imperial forces. The provincial governors asserted their independence, and founded ruling families. The empire became attenuated by external attack and internal division. But, to use tho phrase of the Chinese historians, "after long abiding disunion, union revived." The strong and capable man always appears in one form or another, and the Chinese people, impressed with a belief in both the divine mission of their emperor and also in the value of union, welcome with acclaim the advent of the prince who will restore their favorite and ideal system of one-man government. The time is still hidden in a far-distant and undiscoverable future when it will be otherwise, and when the Chinese will be drawn away from their consistent and ancient practice to pursue the ignis fatuus of European politics that seeks to combine human equality with good practical government and national security. The Chinese have another and more attainable ideal, nor is there any likelihood of their changing it. The fall of dynasties may, needs must, continue in the ordinary course of nature, but in China it will not pave the way to a republic. The imperial authority will rise triumphant after every struggle above the storm.