CHAPTER II. THE FIRST NATIONAL DYNASTY
After a reign of fifty-four years, which must be pronounced glorious, Vouti died, amid greater troubles and anxieties than any that had beset him during his long reign. He was unquestionably a great ruler. He added several provinces to his empire, and the success he met with over the Huns was far from being inconsiderable. He was a Nimrod among the Chinese, and his principal enjoyment was to chase the wildest animals without any attendants. Like many other Chinese princes, Vouti was prone to believe in the possibility of prolonging human life, or, as the Chinese put it, in the draught of immortality. In connection with this weakness an anecdote is preserved that will bear telling. A magician offered the emperor a glass containing the pretended elixir of eternal life, and Vouti was about to drink it when a courtier snatched it from his hand and drained the goblet. The enraged monarch ordered him to prepare for instant death, but the ready courtier at once replied, "How can I be executed, since I have drunk the draught of immortality?" To so convincing an argument no reply was possible, and Vouti lived to a considerable age without the aid of magicians or quack medicines. Of him also it may be said that he added to the stability of the Han dynasty, and he left the throne to Chaoti, the youngest of his sons, a child of eight, for whom he appointed his two most experienced ministers to act as governors. As these ministers were true to their duty, the interregnum did not affect the fortunes of the State adversely, and several claimants to the throne paid for their ambition with their lives. The reign of Chaoti was prosperous and successful, but, unfortunately, he died at the early age of thirty-one, and without leaving an heir.
After some hesitation, Chaoti's uncle Liucho was proclaimed emperor, but he proved to be a boor with low tastes, whose sole idea of power was the license to indulge in coarse amusements. The chief minister, Ho Kwang, took upon himself the responsibility of deposing him, and also of placing on the throne Siuenti, who was the great-grandson, or, according to another account, the grandson, of Vouti. The choice was a fortunate one, and "Ho Kwang gave all his care to perfecting the new emperor in the science of government." As a knowledge of his connection with the Imperial family had been carefully kept from him, Siuenti was brought from a very humble sphere to direct the destinies of the Chinese, and his greater energy and more practical disposition were probably due to his not having been bred in the enervating atmosphere of a palace. He, too, was brought at an early stage of his career face to face with the Tartar question, and he had what may be pronounced a unique experience in his wars with them. He sent several armies under commanders of reputation to wage war on them, and the generals duly returned, reporting decisive and easily obtained victories. The truth soon leaked out. The victories were quite imaginary. The generals had never ventured to face the Tartars, and they were given no option by their enraged and disappointed master but to poison themselves. Other generals were appointed, and the Tartars were induced to sue for peace, partly from fear of the Chinese, and partly because they were disunited among themselves. Such was the reputation of Siuenti for justice that several of the Tartar chiefs carried their grievances to the foot of his throne, and his army became known as "the troops of justice." It is said that all the tribes and countries of Central Asia as far west as the Caspian sent him tribute, and to celebrate the event he built a kilin or pavilion, in which he placed statues of all the generals who had contributed toward his triumph. Only one incident marred the tranquillity of Siuenti's reign. The great statesman, Ho Kwang, had sunk quietly into private life as soon as he found the emperor capable of governing for himself; but his wife Hohien was more ambitious and less satisfied with her position, although she had effected a marriage between her daughter and Siuenti. This lady was only one of the queens of the ruler, and not the empress. Hohien, to further her ends, determined to poison the empress, and succeeded only too well. Her guilt would have been divulged by the doctor she employed, but that Ho Kwang, by an exercise of his authority, prevented the application of torture to him when thrown into prison. This narrow escape from detection did not keep Hohien from crime. She had the satisfaction of seeing her daughter proclaimed empress, but her gratification was diminished by the son of the murdered Hiuchi being selected as heir to the throne. Hohien resolved to poison this prince, but her design was discovered, and she and all the members of her family were ordered to take poison. The minister, Ho Kwang, had taken no part in these plots, which, however, injured his reputation, and his statue in the Imperial pavilion was left without a name.