CHAPTER III. A LONG PERIOD OF DISUNION

Nor was the Song ruler, Wenti, any more fortunate, as he was murdered by his son. The parricide was killed in turn by a brother who became the Emperor Vouti. This ruler was fond of the chase and a great eater, but, on the whole, he did no harm. The next two emperors were cruel and bloodthirsty princes, and during their reigns the executioner was constantly employed. Two more princes, who were, however, not members of the Song family, but only adopted by the last ruler of that house, occupied the throne, but this weakness and unpopularity - for the Chinese, unlike the people of India, scout the idea of adoption and believe only in the rights of birth - administered the finishing stroke to the Songs, who now give place to the Tsi dynasty, which was founded by a general named Siaotaoching, who took the imperial name of Kaoti. The change did not bring any improvement in the conditions of China, and it was publicly said that the Tsi family had attained its pride of place not by merit, but by force. The Tsi dynasty, after a brief and ignominious career, came to an end in the person of a youthful prince named Hoti. After his deposition, in A.D. 502, his successful enemies ironically sent him in prison a present of gold. He exclaimed, "What need have I of gold after my death? a few glasses of wine would be more valuable." They complied with his wish, and while he was drunk they strangled him with his own silken girdle.

After the Tsi came the Leang dynasty, another of those insignificant and unworthy families which occupy the stage of Chinese history during this long period of disunion. The new Emperor Vouti was soon brought into collision with the state of Wei, which during these years had regained all its power, and had felt strong enough to transfer its capital from the northern city of Pingching to Honan, while the Leang capital remained at Nankin. The progress of this contest was marked by the consistent success of Wei, and the prince of that kingdom seems to have been as superior in the capacity of his generals as in the resources of his state. One incident will be sufficient to show the devotion which he was able to inspire in his officers. During the absence of its governor, Vouti attempted to capture the town of Ginching, and he would certainly have succeeded in his object had not Mongchi, the wife of that officer, anticipating by many centuries the conduct of the Countess of Montfort and of the Countess of Derby, thrown herself into the breach, harangued the small garrison, and inspired it with her own indomitable spirit. Vouti was compelled to make an ignominious retreat from before Ginching, and his troops became so disheartened that they refused to engage the enemy, notwithstanding their taunts and their marching round the imperial camp with the head of a dead person decked out in a widow's cap and singing a doggerel ballad to the effect that none of Vouti's generals was to be feared. In the next campaign Vouti was able to restore his declining fortunes by the timely discovery of a skillful general in the person of Weijoui, who, taking advantage of the division of the Wei army into two parts by a river, gained a decisive victory over each of them in turn. If Vouti had listened to his general's advice, and followed up this success, he might have achieved great and permanent results, but instead he preferred to rest content with his laurels, with the result that the Wei prince recovered his military power and confidence. The natural consequences of this was that the two neighbors once more resorted to a trial of strength, and, notwithstanding the valiant and successful defense of a fortress by another lady named Liuchi, the fortune of war declared in the main for Vouti. This may be considered one of the most remarkable periods for the display of female capacity in China, as the great state of Wei was governed by a queen named Houchi; but the general condition of the country does not support an argument in favor of female government.

The tenure of power by Houchi was summarily cut short by the revolt of the Wei commander-in-chief, Erchu Jong, who got rid of his mistress by tying her up in a sack and throwing her into the Hoangho. He then collected two thousand of her chief advisers in a plain outside the capital, and there ordered his cavalry to cut them down. Erchu Jong then formed an ambitious project for reuniting the empire, proclaiming to his followers his intention in this speech: "Wait a little while, and we shall assemble all the braves from out our western borders. We will then go and bring to reason the six departments of the north, and the following year we will cross the great Kiang, and place in chains Siaoyen, who calls himself emperor." This scheme was nipped in the bud by the assassination of Erchu Jong. Although the death of its great general signified much loss to the Wei state, the Emperor Vouti experienced bitter disappointment and a rude awakening when he attempted to turn the event to his own advantage. His army was defeated in every battle, his authority was reduced to a shadow, and a mutinous officer completed in his palace the overthrow begun by his hereditary enemy. Vouti was now eighty years of age, and ill able to stand so rude a shock. On being deposed he exclaimed: "It was I who raised my family, and it was I who have destroyed it. I have no reason to complain"; and he died a few days later, from, it is said, a pain in his throat which his jailers refused to alleviate with some honey. On the whole, Vouti was a creditable ruler, although the Chinese annalists blame him for his superstition and denounce his partiality for Buddhism.