This series has three easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: First Emperor of Han Dynasty.
The first Chinese are supposed to have been a nomad tribe in the provinces of Shensi, which lies in the northwest of China, and among them at last appeared a ruler, Fohi, whose name at least has been preserved. His deeds and his person are mythical, but he is credited with having given his country its first regular institutions.
The annalists of the Chinese chronicles placed the date of the Creation at a point of time two millions of years before Confucius; this interval they filled up with lines of dynasties. Preceding the Chow dynasty the chronicles give ten epochs — prior to the eighth of these there is no authentic history. Yew-chow She [the “Nest-having”] taught the people to build huts of the boughs of trees. Fire was discovered by Say-jin She [the “Fire producer”]. Fuh-he [B.C. 2862] was the discoverer of iron. With Yaou [B.C. 2356] is the period whence Confucius begins his story. He says of that epoch: “The house door could safely be left open.” Yaou greatly extended and strengthened the empire and established fairs and marts over the land.
One of China’s most notable rulers was Tsin Chi Hwangti, who was studious in providing for the security of his empire, and with this object began the construction of a fortified wall across the northern frontier to serve as a defense against the troublesome Hiongnou tribes, who are identified with the Huns of Attila. This wall, which he began in the first years of his reign — about the close of the third century B.C. — was finished before his death. It still exists, known as the Great Wall of China, and has long been considered one of the wonders of the world. Every third man of the whole empire was employed on this work. It is said that five hundred thousand of them died of starvation. The contents of the Great Wall would be enough to build two walls six feet high and two feet thick around the equator. It is the largest artificial structure in the world; carried for fourteen hundred miles over height and hollow, reaching in one place the level of five thousand feet — nearly one mile — above the sea. Earth, gravel, brick, and stone were used in its construction.
The weak successors of Hwangti finally gave way to the usurper, Kaotsou, who had been originally the ruler of a small town, and had borne the name of Lieou Pang.
The reign of Kaotsou was distinguished by the consolidation of the empire; the connection of Western with Eastern China by high walls and bridges, some of which are still in perfect condition, and the institution of an elaborate code of court etiquette. His attention to these things was, however, rudely interrupted by an irruption of the Hiongnou Tartars.
This selection is from History of China by Demetrius Charles Boulger published in 1884. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Demetrius Charles Boulger co-founded the Asian Quarterly Review and wrote extensively on Asian affairs.
Time: 200 BC
The death of Tsin Chi Hwangti proved the signal for the outbreak of disturbances throughout the realm. Within a few months five princes had founded as many kingdoms, each hoping, if not to become supreme, at least to remain independent. Moungtien, beloved by the army, and at the head, as he tells us in his own words, of three hundred thousand soldiers, might have been the arbiter of the empire; but a weak feeling of respect for the imperial authority induced him to obey an order, sent by Eulchi, Hwangti’s son and successor, commanding him “to drink the waters of eternal life.” Eulchi’s brief reign of three years was a succession of misfortunes. The reins of office were held by the eunuch Chow-kow, who first murdered the minister Lissep and then Eulchi himself.
Ing Wang, a grandson of Hwangti, was the next and last of the Tsin emperors. On coming to power, he at once caused Chow-kow, whose crimes had been discovered, to be arrested and executed. This vigorous commencement proved very transitory, for when he had enjoyed nominal authority during six weeks, Ing Wang’s troops, after a reverse in the field, went over in a body to Lieou Pang, the leader of a rebel force. Ing Wang put an end to his existence, thus terminating, in a manner not less ignominious than any of its predecessors, the dynasty of the Tsins, which Hwangti had hoped to place permanently on the throne of China, and to which his genius gave a lustre far surpassing that of many other families who had enjoyed the same privilege during a much longer period.
The crisis in the history of the country had afforded one of those great men who rise periodically from the ranks of the people to give law to nations the opportunity for advancing his personal interests at the same time that he made them appear to be identical with the public weal. Of such geniuses, if the test applied be the work accomplished, there have been few with higher claims to respectful and admiring consideration than Lieou Pang, who after the fall of the Tsins became the founder of the Han dynasty under the style of Kaotsou. Originally the governor of a small town, he had, soon after the death of Hwangti, gathered round him the nucleus of a formidable army, and while nominally serving under one of the greater princes, he scarcely affected to conceal that he was fighting for his own interest. On the other hand, he was no mere soldier of fortune, and the moderation which he showed after victory enhanced his reputation as a general. The path to the throne being thus cleared, the successful general became emperor.
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