CHAPTER III. A LONG PERIOD OF DISUNION

Vouti's prediction that his family was destroyed proved correct. He was succeeded in turn by three members of his family, but all of these died a violent death. A general named Chinpasien founded a fresh dynasty known as the Chin, but he died before he had enjoyed power many years. At this period also disappeared the Wei state, which was dissolved by the death of Erchu Jong, and now merged itself into that of Chow. The growth of this new power proved very rapid, and speedily extinguished that of the unfortunate Chins. The Chow ruler took the name of Kaotsou Wenti, and ruled over a great portion of China. He changed the name of his dynasty to the Soui, which, although it did not hold possession of the throne for long, vindicated its claim to supremacy by successful wars and admirable public works. This prince showed himself a very capable administrator, and his acts were marked by rare generosity and breadth of view. His son and successor, Yangti, although he reached the throne by the murder of a brother, proved himself an intelligent ruler and a benefactor of his people. He transferred his capital from Nankin to Honan, which he resolved to make the most magnificent city in the world. It is declared that he employed two million men in embellishing it, and that he caused fifty thousand merchants to take up their residence there. But of all his works none will compare with the great system of canals which he constructed, and in connection with which his name will live forever in history. Although he reigned no more than thirteen years, he completed nearly five thousand miles of canals. Some of these, such as the Grand Canal, from the Hoangho to the Yangtsekiang, are splendid specimens of human labor, and could be made as useful today as they were when first constructed. The canal named is forty yards wide and is lined with solid stone. The banks are bordered with elms and willows. These works were constructed by a general corvee or levy en masse, each family being required to provide one able-bodied man, and the whole of the army was also employed on this public undertaking. It is in connection with it that Yangti's name will be preserved, as his wars, especially one with Corea, were not successful, and an ignominious end was put to his existence by a fanatic. His son and successor was also murdered, when the Soui dynasty came to an end, and with it the magnificent and costly palace erected at Loyang, which was denounced as only calculated "to soften the heart of a prince and to foment his cupidity."

There now ensues a break in the long period of disunion which had prevailed in China, and for a time the supreme authority of the emperor recovered the general respect and vigor which by right belonged to it. The deposer of the Souis was Liyuen, who some years before had been given the title of Prince of Tang. In the year A.D. 617 he proclaimed himself emperor under the style of Kaotsou, and he began his reign in an auspicious manner by proclaiming an amnesty and by stating his "desire to found his empire only on justice and humanity." While he devoted his attention to the reorganization of the administration at Singan, which he chose for his capital, his second son, Lichimin, was intrusted with the command of the army in the field, to which was assigned the task of subjecting all the provinces. Lichimin proved himself a great commander, and his success was both rapid and unqualified. He was equally victorious over Chinese rebels and foreign enemies. His energy and skill were not more conspicuous than his courage. At the head of his chosen regiment of cuirassiers, carrying black tiger skins, he was to be found in the front of every battle, and victory was due as often to his personal intrepidity as to his tactical skill. Within a few years the task of Lichimin was brought to a glorious completion, and on his return to Singan he was able to assure his father that the empire was pacified in a sense that had not been true for many centuries. His entry into Singan at the head of his victorious troops reminds the reader of a Roman triumph. Surrounded by his chosen bodyguard, and followed by forty thousand cavalry, Lichimin, wearing a breastplate of gold and accompanied by the most important of his captives, rode through the streets to make public offering of thanks for victory achieved, at the Temple of his ancestors. His success was enhanced by his moderation, for he granted his prisoners their lives, and his reputation was not dimmed by any acts of cruelty or bloodshed.

The magnitude of Lichimin's success and his consequent popularity aroused the envy and hostility of his elder brother, who aspired to the throne. The intrigues against him were so far successful that he fell into disgrace with the emperor, and for a time withdrew from the court. But his brother was not content with anything short of taking his life, and formed a conspiracy with his other brothers and some prominent officials to murder him. The plot was discovered, and recoiled upon its authors, who were promptly arrested and executed. Then Lichimin was formally proclaimed heir to the throne; but the event sinks into comparative insignificance beside the abdication of the throne by Kaotsou in the same year. The real cause of this step was probably not disconnected with the plot against Lichimin, but the official statement was that Kaotsou felt the weight of years, and that he wished to enjoy rest and the absence of responsibility during his last days. Kaotsou must be classed among the capable rulers of China, but his fame has been overshadowed by and merged in the greater splendor of his son. He survived his abdication nine years, dying in A.D. 635 at the age of seventy-one.