CHAPTER II. THE FIRST NATIONAL DYNASTY
After this brilliant and memorable war, Panchow returned to China, where he died at the great age of eighty. With him disappeared the good fortune of the Han dynasty, and misfortunes fell rapidly on the family that had governed China so long and so well. Hoti's infant son lived only a few months, and then his brother, Ganti, became emperor. The real power rested in the hands of the widow of Hoti, who was elevated to the post of regent. Ganti was succeeded in A.D. 124 by his son, Chunti, in whose time several rebellions occurred, threatening the extinction of the dynasty. Several children were then elevated to the throne, and at last an ambitious noble named Leangki, whose sister was one of the empresses, acquired the supreme direction of affairs. He gave a great deal of trouble, but at last, finding that his ambitious schemes did not prosper, he took poison, thus anticipating a decree passed for his execution. Hwanti, the emperor who had the courage to punish this powerful noble, was the last able ruler of the Hans. His reign was, on the whole, a brilliant one, and the Sienpi tribes, who had taken the place of the Hiongnou, were, after one arduous campaign, defeated in a pitched battle. The Chinese were on the verge of defeat when their general, Twan Kang, rushed to the front, exclaiming: "Recall to your minds how often before you have beaten these same opponents, and teach them again to-day that in you they have their masters."
After Hwanti's death the decline of the Hans was rapid. They produced no other ruler worthy of the throne. In the palace the eunuchs, always numerous at the Chinese court, obtained the upper hand, and appointed their own creatures to the great governing posts. Fortunately this dissension at the capital was not attended by weakness on the frontier, and the Sienpi were again defeated. The battle is chiefly memorable because the Sienpi endeavored to frighten the Chinese general by threatening to kill his mother, who was a prisoner in their hands, if he attacked. Not deterred by this menace, Chow Pow attacked the enemy, and gained a decisive victory, but at the cost of his mother's life, which so affected him that he died of grief shortly afterward. After some time dissensions rose in the Han family, and two half-brothers claimed the throne. Pienti became emperor by the skillful support of his uncle, General Hotsin, while his rival, Hienti, enjoyed the support of the eunuchs. A deadly feud ensued between the two parties, which was aggravated by the murder of Hotsin, who rashly entered the palace without an escort. His soldiers avenged his death, carrying the palace by storm and putting ten thousand eunuchs to the sword. After this the last emperors possessed only the name of emperor. The practical authority was disputed among several generals, of whom Tsow Tsow was the most distinguished and successful; and he and his son Tsowpi founded a dynasty, of which more will be heard hereafter. In A.D. 220 Hienti, the last Han ruler, retired into private life, thus bringing to an end the famous Han dynasty, which had governed China for four hundred and fifty years.
Among the families that have reigned in China none has obtained as high a place in popular esteem as the Hans. They rendered excellent work in consolidating the empire and in carrying out what may be called the imperial mission of China. Yunnan and Leaoutung were made provinces for the first time. Cochin China became a vassal state. The writ of the emperor ran as far as the Pamir. The wealth and trade of the country increased with the progress of its armies. Some of the greatest public works, in the shape of roads, bridges, canals, and aqueducts, were constructed during this period, and still remain to testify to the glory of the Hans. As has been seen, the Hans produced several great rulers. Their fame was not the creation of one man alone, and as a consequence the dynasty enjoyed a lengthened existence equaled by few of its predecessors or successors. No ruling family was ever more popular with the Chinese than this, and it managed to retain the throne when less favored rulers would have expiated their mistakes and shortcomings by the loss of the empire. With the strong support of the people, the Hans overcame innumerable difficulties, and even the natural process of decay; and when they made their final exit from history it was in a graceful manner, and without the execration of the masses. That this feeling retains its force is shown in the pride with which the Chinese still proclaim themselves to be the sons of Han.