CHAPTER III. A LONG PERIOD OF DISUNION
Chongtsong did not reign long, being poisoned by his wife, who did not reap the advantage of her crime. Several emperors succeeded without doing anything to attract notice, and then Mingti brought both his own family and the Chinese empire to the verge of ruin. Like other rulers, he began well, quoting the maxims of the "Golden Mirror" and proclaiming Confucius King of Literature. But defeats at the hands of the Khitans and Tibetans imbittered his life and diminished his authority. A soldier of fortune named Ganlochan revolted and met with a rapid and unexpected success owing to "the people being unaccustomed, from the long peace, to the use of arms." He subdued all the northern provinces, established his capital at Loyang, and compelled Mingti to seek safety in Szchuen, when he abdicated in favor of his son. The misfortunes of Mingti, whose most memorable act was the founding of the celebrated Hanlin College and the institution of the "Pekin Gazette," the oldest periodical in the world, both of which exist at the present day, foretold the disruption of the empire at no remote date. His son and successor Soutsong did something to retrieve the fortunes of his family, and he recovered Singan from Ganlochan. The empire was then divided between the two rivals, and war continued unceasingly between them. The successful defense of Taiyuen, where artillery is said to have been used for the first time, A.D. 757, by a lieutenant of the Emperor Soutsong, consolidated his power, which was further increased by the murder of Ganlochan shortly afterward. The struggle continued with varying fortune between the northern and southern powers during the rest of the reign of Soutsong, and also during that of his successor, Taitsong the Second. This ruler showed himself unworthy of his name, abandoning his capital with great pusillanimity when a small Tibetan army advanced upon it. The census returns threw an expressive light on the condition of the empire during this period. Under Mingti the population was given at fifty- two million; in the time of the second Taitsong it had sunk to seventeen million. A great general named Kwo Tsey, who had driven back the Tibetan invaders, enabled Tetsong, the son and successor of Taitsong, to make a good start in the government of his dominion, which was sadly reduced in extent and prosperity. This great statesman induced Tetsong to issue an edict reproving the superstitions of the times, and the prevalent fashion of drawing auguries from dreams and accidents. The edict ran thus: "Peace and the general contentment of the people, the abundance of the harvest, skill and wisdom shown in the administration, these are prognostics which I hear of with pleasure; but 'extraordinary clouds,' 'rare animals,' 'plants before unknown,' 'monsters,' and other astonishing productions of nature, what good can any of these do men as auguries of the future? I forbid such things to be brought to my notice." The early death of Kwo Tsey deprived the youthful ruler of his best adviser and the mainstay of his power. He was a man of magnificent capacity and devotion to duty, and when it was suggested to him that he should not be content with any but the supreme place, he proudly replied that he was "a general of the Tangs." It seems from the inscription on the stone found at Singan that he was a patron of the Nestorian Christians, and his character and career have suggested a comparison with Belisarius.
Tetsong lived twenty-four years after the death of his champion, and these years can only be characterized as unfortunate. The great governors claimed and exacted the privilege that their dignities should be made hereditary, and this surrender of the imperial prerogative entailed the usual deterioration of the central power which preceded a change of dynasty. Unpopularity was incurred by the imposition of taxes on the principal articles of production and consumption, such as tea, and, worst symptom of all, the eunuchs again became supreme in the palace. Although the dynasty survived for another century, it was clear that its knell was sounded before Tetsong died. Under his grandson Hientsong the mischief that had been done became more clearly apparent. Although he enjoyed some military successes, his reign on the whole was unfortunate, and he was poisoned by the chief of the eunuchs. His son and successor, Moutsong, from his indifference may be suspected of having been privy to the occurrence. At any rate, he only enjoyed power for a few years before he was got rid of in the same summary fashion. Several other nonentities came to the throne, until at last one ruler named Wentsong, whose intentions at least were stronger than those of his predecessors, attempted to grapple with the eunuchs and formed a plot for their extermination. His courage failed him and the plot miscarried. The eunuchs exacted a terrible revenge on their opponents, of whom they killed nearly three thousand, and Wentsong passed the last year of his life as a miserable puppet in their hands. He was not allowed even to name his successor. The eunuchs ignored his two sons, and placed his brother Voutsong on the throne.