1902 Encyclopedia > China > Chinese History (cont.) - Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC)

(Part 27)


Imperial Era (221 BC - 1911 AD)

Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC)

Scarcely was this sovereign seated on the throne when he was attacked with a fatal illness, and after a reign of but three days he became "a great in heaven," and Chang-seang Wang his son required in his stead. The only title to fame possessed by this monarch was that he was the father of one of the greatest rulers China has ever had. As he was himself a man of no mark, it was probably fortunate for the country that he occupied the throne for only three years, and at the end of that time (246 B.C.), he yielded up his earthly honours to Che Hwang-te, "the first universal emperor." This sovereign was but thirteen years of age when he ascended the throne, but young as he was he speedily made his influence everywhere felt. He chose Heen-yang, the modern Se-gan Foo, as his capital, and built there a magnificent place, which was the wonder and admiration of his contemporaries. He constructed roads through the empire, he formed canals and erected numerous and handsome public buildings. Having by these and other means settled the internal affairs of his kingdom, he turned his attention to the enemies beyond his frontier. Chief among these were the Heung-noo Tatars, whose attacks had for years kept the Chinese and neighbouring principalities in a state of disquiet. Against these foes he marched with an army of 300,000 men and completely routed them, exterminating those in the neighbourhood of China, and driving the rest into the mountains of Mongolia. He had no sooner returned form this campaign than he was called upon to face a formidable rebellion in Ho-nan, which had been set on foot by the adherents of the feudal princes, all of whim he had dispossessed when he reconstructed the empire on the monarchical principle. Against these rebels he was as successful as he had been against the Heung-noo, and as soon as peace was restored he marched southwards to subdue the tribes on the south of the Nan-shan ranges, that is to say the inhabitants of the modern provinces of Fuh-keen, Kwang-tung, and Kwang-se. Having accomoplished this vast undertaking, he returned to his capital to administer the empire he had won, the limits of which were as nearly as possible those of modern China proper. One monument remains to the present day to bear witness to his enterprising energy. Finding that the northern states of Thsin, Chaou, and Yen were building lines of fortification along their northern frontier for protection against the incursions of the Heung-noo, he conceived the idea of building one gigantic wall, which was to stretch across the whole northern limit of the huge empire from the sea to the furthest western corner of the modern province of Kan-suh. This work was begun under his immediate supervision in 214 B.C., but though it was energetically proceeded with, he died before it was completed. Notwithstanding all that he had done for the country he was very unpopular with the upper classes. He was a reformer, and reformers were a distasteful to the Chinamen of that time as to those of to-day, and schoolmen and pedants were for ever holding up to the admiration of the people the heroues of the feudal times and the advantages of the system they administered. This doctrine was full of danger to the state, and Che Hqang-te therefore determined to break once and for all with the past. To thois end he ordered the destruction of all books having reference to the past history of the empire. This decree was almost universally carried out, and many scholars were put to death for failing in obedience to it. The measure, however, widened the breach between the emperor and the upper classes, and when, on his death, in 210 B.C., his son Urh-she Hwang-te ascended the throne, the wide-spread discontent broke out into tumults. Taking advantage of the confusion which thus arose, the princes who had been disposed by Che Hwang-te again attempted to regain the thrones they had lost. Unlikehis father, Urh-she Hwang-te was quite unable to grapple with troublous times. He was a weak and debauched youth, and was murdered after having offered a feeble resistance to his enemies. His son Tsze-yung thereupon surrendered himself to Lew Pang, one of two generals, who at that time were the leaders of the rebellion. Unfortunately, however, he afterwards fell into the hands of Heang-Yu, the other chieftain, who was as blood-thirsty as Lew Pang was merciful, and who instantly put him to death along with all his family and associates. The rivalry between these two chieftains broke out into open warfare almost immediately after this event, on Heang Yu unsurping to himself imperial honours. For five years war raged between the two combatants, and at the end of that timeLew Pang was left master of the field after a decisive battle before Woo-keang, in which Heang Yu was slain. Lew Pang was then proclaimed emperor (206 B.C.) under the title of Kaou-te, and the new line was styled the Hau dynasty.

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