Today’s installment concludes Tartars Invade China 200 BC,
our selection from History of China by Demetrius Charles Boulger published in 1884.
If you have journeyed through all of the installments of this series, just one more to go and you will have completed a selection from the great works of three thousand words. Congratulations!
Previously in Tartars Invade China 200 BC.
Time: 200 BC
With a very short supply of provisions, and hopelessly outnumbered, it looked as if the Chinese Emperor could not possibly escape the grasp of the desert chief. In this strait one of his officers suggested as a last chance that the most beautiful virgin in the town should be discovered, and sent as a present to mollify the conqueror. Kaotsou seized at this suggestion, as the drowning man will catch at a straw, and the story is preserved, though her name has passed into oblivion, of how the young Chinese girl entered into the plan and devoted all her wits to charming the Tartar conqueror. She succeeded as much as their fondest hopes could have led them to believe; and Meha permitted Kaotsou, after signing an ignominious treaty, to leave his place of confinement and rejoin his army, glad to welcome the return of the Emperor, yet without him helpless to stir a hand to effect his release. Meha retired to his own territory, well satisfied with the material results of the war and the rich booty which had been obtained in the sack of Chinese cities, while Kaotsou, like the ordinary type of an oriental ruler, vented his discomfiture on his subordinates.
The closing acts of the war were the lavishing of rewards on the head of the general to whose warnings he had paid no heed, and the execution of the scouts who had been misled by the wiles of Meha.
The success which had attended this incursion and the spoil of war were potent inducements to the Tartars to repeat the invasion. While Kaotsou was meditating over the possibility of revenge, and considering schemes for the better protection of his frontier, the Tartars, disregarding the truce that had been concluded, retraced their steps, and pillaged the border districts with impunity. In this year (B.C. 199) they were carrying everything before them, and the Emperor, either unnerved by recent disaster or appalled at the apparently irresistible energy of the followers of Meha, remained apathetic in his palace. The representations of his ministers and generals failed to rouse him from his stupor, and the weapon to which he resorted was the abuse of his opponent, and not his prompt chastisement. Meha was “a wicked and faithless man, who had risen to power by the murder of his father, and one with whom oaths and treaties carried no weight.” In the mean while the Tartars were continuing their victorious career. The capital itself could not be pronounced safe from their assaults, or from the insult of their presence.
In this crisis counsels of craft and dissimulation alone found favor in the Emperor’s cabinet. No voice was raised in support of the bold and only true course of going forth to meet the national enemy. The capitulation of Pingching had for the time destroyed the manhood of the race, and Kaotsou held in esteem the advice of men widely different to those who had placed him on the throne. Kaotsou opened fresh negotiations with Meha, who concluded a treaty on condition of the Emperor’s daughter being given to him in marriage, and on the assumption that he was an independent ruler. With these terms Kaotsou felt obliged to comply, and thus for the first time this never-ceasing collision between the tribes of the desert and the agriculturists of the plains of China closed with the admitted triumph of the former. The contest was soon to be renewed with different results, but the triumph of Meha was beyond question.
[One historian had the courage to declare that “Never was so great a shame inflicted on the Middle Kingdom, which then lost its dignity and honor.”]
The weakness thus shown against a foreign foe brought its own punishment in domestic troubles. The palace became the scene of broils, plots, and counterplots, and so badly did Kaotsou manage his affairs at this epoch that one of his favorite generals raised the standard of revolt against him through apparently a mere misunderstanding. In this instance Kaotsou easily put down the rising, but others followed which, if not pregnant with danger, were at the least extremely troublesome. The murder of Hansin, to whose aid Kaotsou owed his elevation to the throne as much as to any other, by order of the empress, during a reception at the palace, shook confidence still more in the ruler, and many of his followers were forced into open rebellion through dread of personal danger. What wonder that, as he has said, “the very name of revolt inspired Kaotsou with apprehension.”
In B.C. 195 we find Kaotsou going out of his way to visit the tomb of Confucius. Shortly after this event it became evident that he was approaching his end. His eldest son Hiaohoei was proclaimed heir apparent. Kaotsou died in the fifty-third year of his age, having reigned as emperor during eight years. The close of his reign did not bear out all the promise of its commencement; and the extent of his authority was greatly curtailed by the disastrous effects of the war with the Tartars and the subsequent revolts among his generals.
Despite these reverses there remains much in favor of his character. He had performed his part in the consolidation of the Hans; it remained for those who came after him to complete what he left half finished.
Under Hoeiti, the Tartar King Meha sent an envoy to the capital, but either the form or the substance of his message enraged the empress-mother, who ordered his execution. The two peoples were thus again brought to the brink of war, but eventually the difference was sunk for the time, and the Chinese chroniclers have represented that the satisfactory turn in the question was due to Meha seeing the error of his ways.  Not long afterward the Tartar King died, and was succeeded by his son Lao Chang.
[3 Meha’s letter of excuse is thus given: “In the barbarous country which I govern both virtue and the decencies of life are unknown. I have been unable to free myself from them, and, therefore, I blush. China has her wise men; that is a happiness which I envy. They would have prevented my being wanting in the respect due to your rank.”]
This ends our series of passages on Tartars Invade China 200 BC by Demetrius Charles Boulger from his book History of China published in 1884. This blog features short and lengthy pieces on all aspects of our shared past. Here are selections from the great historians who may be forgotten (and whose work have fallen into public domain) as well as links to the most up-to-date developments in the field of history and of course, original material from yours truly, Jack Le Moine. – A little bit of everything historical is here.
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