CHAPTER IV. THE SUNGS AND THE KINS
The career of Wanganchi, an eccentric and socialistic statesman, who wished to pose as a great national reformer, and who long possessed the ear and favor of his sovereign, lends an interest to the reign of the second Chintsong. Wanganchi did not possess the confidence or the admiration of his brother officials, and subsequent writers have generally termed him an impostor and a charlatan. But he may only have been a misguided enthusiast when he declared that "the State should take the entire management of commerce, industry, and agriculture into its own hands, with the view of succoring the working classes, and preventing their being ground to the dust by the rich." The advocacy of such a scheme is calculated to earn popularity, as few of those who are to benefit by it stop to examine its feasibility, and Wanganchi might have been remembered as an enlightened thinker and enthusiastic advocate of the rights of the masses if he had not been called upon to carry out his theories. But the proof of experience, like the touch of Ithuriel's spear, revealed the practical value of his suggestions, and dissolved the attractive vision raised by his perfervid eloquence and elevated enthusiasm. His honesty of purpose cannot, however, be disputed. On being appointed to the post of chief minister he took in hand the application of his own project. He exempted the poor from all taxation. He allotted lands, and he supplied the cultivators with seeds and implements. He also appointed local boards to superintend the efforts of the agricultural classes, and to give them assistance and advice. But this paternal government, this system of making the state do what the individual ought to do for himself, did not work as it was expected. Those who counted on the agricultural laborer working with as much intelligence and energy for himself as he had done under the direction of a master were doomed to disappointment. Want of skill, the fitfulness of the small holder, aggravated perhaps by national calamities, drought, flood, and pestilence, being felt more severely by laborers than by capitalists, led to a gradual shrinkage in the area of cultivated land, and at last to the suffering of the classes who were to specially benefit from the scheme of Wanganchi. The failure of his scheme, which, to use his own words, aimed at preventing there being any poor or over-rich persons in the state, entailed his disgrace and fall from power. But his work and his name have continued to excite interest and speculation among his countrymen down to the present day. His memory has been aspersed by the writers of China, who have generally denounced him as a free-thinker and a nihilist, and although, twenty years after his death, a tablet bearing his name was placed in the Hall of Confucius as the greatest Chinese thinker since Mencius, it was removed after a brief period, and since then both the name and the works of Wanganchi have been consigned to an oblivion from which only the curiosity of European writers has rescued them.
Chintsong's reign was peaceful, but he seems to have only avoided war by yielding to all the demands of the Tartars, who encroached on the frontier and seized several Chinese cities. His son Chetsong was only ten when he became emperor, and the administration was carried on by his mother, the Empress Tefei, another of the capable women of Chinese history. Her early death left Chetsong to rule as he listed, and his first acts of independent authority were not of happy augury for the future. He had not been on the throne many months before he divorced his principal wife without any apparent justification, and when remonstrated with he merely replied that he was imitating several of his predecessors. The censor's retort was, "You would do better to imitate their virtues, and not their faults." Chetsong did not have any long opportunity of doing either, for he died of grief at the loss of his favorite son, and it is recorded that, as "he did not expect to die so soon," he omitted the precaution of selecting an heir. Fortunately the mischief of a disputed successor was avoided by the unanimous selection of his brother Hoeitsong as the new emperor. He proved himself a vain and superstitious ruler, placing his main faith in fortune tellers, and expecting his subjects to yield implicit obedience to his opinions as "the master of the law and the prince of doctrine." Among other fallacies, Hoeitsong cherished the belief that he was a great soldier, and he aspired to rank as the conqueror of the old successful enemy of China, the Khitans of Leaoutung. He had no army worthy of the name, and the southern Chinese who formed the mass of his subjects were averse to war, yet his personal vanity impelled him to rush into hostilities which promised to be the more serious because a new and formidable power had arisen on the northern frontier.