THE EMPIRE AND THE NORTHERN BARBARIANS
 OUT of the thirty-five dynasties known in Chinese history, only two are reckoned as of purely native
origin, the Han and the Ming. As in England, the founders of ruling houses were mostly foreigners.
The Han line of emperors is divided by historians into two branches and epochs, the Former or
Western Han, B.C. 206 to A.D. 25, and the Later or Eastern Han
dynasty, A.D. 25 to 214. It is not necessary, in this little book, to name the
emperors, some thirty in number, or to say much about them, but only to speak of the characteristics
of the line and the age in which they lived.
Some of the traditions of the early ages, as in the following example, explain the situation better
than descriptions could do. Han Sin, a grandson of the prince of the Han domain, whose territory was
seized by the first Tsin ruler, was left so poor that he had to get his breakfast out of the water
which flowed around the castle of his ancestors. While the hungry boy sat in front of the moat,
waiting for a bite, a poor woman, who was steeping flax near by, took pity on him and gave him food.
Becoming a soldier when grown, he rose
 rapidly as a hero and served under the founder of the Western Han dynasty, and winning many battles
was made prince of the domain in which lay his ancestral castle. At once he sought out the old woman
who had helped him, and made her a present of one thousand gold pieces. He also hunted up and gave a
position of trust to a man who had once dared him when a boy to show his grit.
In later life, slandered by enemies to the emperor who was founder of the Han dynasty, Han Sin
expected to be put to death, for he knew how often jealous men who reach power handle cruelly their
helpers, when the benefit of their service has been exhausted. So Han Sin said, "When the cunning
hare is caught, the fleet bound goes into the cooking pot; when the soaring bird is shot, the trusty
bow is laid aside; when the foe is vanquished, the wise counselor is forgotten. The empire is now
established,—it is right that I should go into the cooking pot." He lived, however, some years
after this episode. Han Sin was one of the "Three Heroes" most famous in Chinese history.
This being the first really national dynasty, the Chinese, especially the northerners, still speak
proudly of themselves as the Sons of Han. The good opinions of the scholars were won by repealing
the decree against them, by collecting the books which were hidden or had survived, and by paying
honor to literature and offering sacrifices
 at the tomb of Confucius. The capital was located in Shen Si, so as to be near the threatening
danger, the barbarians of the north, with which the Chinese had to grapple. The Tartars had by this
time spread over the northern part of what is now China proper.
These Mongolians, of the same stock as the Huns and Turks, had no cities and never dwelt in towns.
Their homes were on their horses. Even the children were taught, when very young, to ride on the
sheep's backs. Having no fields or gardens, their animals furnished them occupation, food, drink,
clothing, means of travel, and power in war. Tartar food was mainly meat and milk. With their
camels, asses, mules, horses, and sheep as their daily care, they moved from place to place in
search of pasture. They fought on horseback, charging with wild shouts against their enemies.
The eastern Tartars became the Manchus and Koreans, and also made part of the composite people of
Japan. The western Tartars at various times overran western Asia, the Roman Empire, and medieval
So began and continued for centuries the struggle of the Chinese with the fierce shepherds and
wandering horsemen of the north. In its nature, this strife was much the same as that rivalry
between Abel and Cain, which we behold in the forefront of human history. One is a farmer. He
settles down to regular life, tills the soil, and
 begins the civilization which means progress. The other is a hunter, or a shepherd, who will not
plough the ground or live under a roof. If a hunter, he finds his food in the forest. If a nomad, he
moves over the earth, never abiding in any one place. In either case he despises, or even hates, the
man of regular life. He is apt to consider the property of the farmer or townsman as fair game, and
the tempting spoils of war. We see the same picture of life in ancient Israel, where the wandering
Bedawin in the desert and the settled Hebrews in the walled cities were ever at war; in early Japan
between the Yamato men and the Ainu; in Europe between the Romans and the Teutonic barbarians, our
ancestors, between the lowlanders and the highlanders of Scotland, between our colonial fathers and
the Indians; and, indeed, in all human history.
War in China had occasionally its comic side, and many things occurred to make one laugh as well as
to mourn. In one case these northern mauraders, after making a raid, started back to carry off their
spoil. The Chinese emperor pursued them, but "caught a Tartar," and was obliged himself to get into
a walled city. There he might have been captured, except for a smart trick played upon his enemy. In
the Tartar camp, the barbarous chieftain's wife had no fear that her husband would not conquer the
Chinese men, but she dreaded the Chinese women, lest with their
 beauty they should steal away her husband's affections. So the emperor stuck up on the city walls
puppets or lay figures, dressed and painted to represent pretty Chinese girls. He then craftily sent
a letter to the Tartar chieftain's wife, saying that he proposed to present these lovely maidens to
her husband. Instead of being glad to hear this, the lady developed a fit of fiery jealousy, and was
not happy until she had persuaded her husband to raise the siege and retreat. This incident made a
great impression on the northerners, who were so feared yet despised by the Chinese. When a few
years afterwards they made another irruption, the emperor bought them off by giving his own daughter
to their leader and promising an annual tribute of silk, wine, and grain. For centuries, Tartar
chiefs made invasions southward, lured by the beauty of the Chinese women. Soon we shall find these
Tartar chiefs with Chinese wives claiming the throne through their heirs.
During this era, the barbarians fought among themselves. One tribe withdrew from Mongolia and moved
westward, beginning that great march which continued for centuries. They settled in Bokhara, and
were part of the great movement of the Huns that struck the Roman Empire so disastrously in the era
of its weakness.
One can see easily how much alike, and at very much the same time, was the work of both the Roman
and the Chinese Empire in keeping back
 the northern barbarians, who in Europe were the Teutons, our ancestors, and in Asia were Tartars.
Yet on both continents and in both empires there were victories in peace as well as in war.
One emperor, Wen-ti, was renowned for his filial devotion. During his mother's last illness, which
lasted three years, it is said he never left her apartments. He was a very humane ruler. He reformed
the code of barbarous punishment, which hitherto had included branding on the face, cutting off the
nose, chopping off the feet, etc. He also revived the study of literature and collected manuscripts.
His star, in the constellation named after him, is the abode of the god of literature.
Many stories are told of battle, ambuscade, advance, and retreat in these wars on the northern
frontier. To develop grand strategy and to make a flank movement, one emperor invaded and annexed
the northern part of Korea, then much larger than now, and including Liao Tung. Wu-ti, who reigned
fifty-four years, also extended the confines of the empire westward and southward. Although so
active in war and letters, he was very superstitious. He patronized magicians and sorcerers and
indulged his sensual passions. One of these necromancers professed to be able to bridle and mount
dragons and bestride the hoary crane, and on these coursers of the air to visit the whole universe;
to make snow out of silver and
trans-  mute cinnabar into gold. Centuries after Wu-ti's time, these Chinese theories, brought into Europe
by the Arabs, greatly influenced our ancestors' notions of alchemy and chemistry.
In popular tradition this emperor Wu-ti bears two different characters. In the later wonder tales,
he is represented as being wooed by his fairy visitor, whose title is the Western Royal Mother. She
dwelt on a famous high mountain, at the head of her troops of genii and fairies, and from time to
time she had friendly interviews with favored emperors. The magnificence of the mountain pal-ace of
this Empress of the West is glowingly described in the romances, and on many a Chinese dish, vase,
or plate we recognize her and her train and the story wrought in splendid colors. Here, by the Lake
of Gems, grows the peach tree, whose fruit confers the gift of immortality, which the queen bestows
upon her favorites, and from her mountain home she sends out the azure-winged birds, who serve as
her attendants and messengers.
A staff of generals, brave and daring, carried the arms of Wu-ti into the heart of central Asia. By
B.C. 130 the tribes of Yunnan were brought under imperial rule, and the
boundaries of China proper became very much as they are found to-day. Through these conquests the
Chinese became acquainted with the countries of the West, and the aborigines and barbarians received
much Chinese culture. Travel was then by land, for ships
 able to cross the ocean were not yet known. Embassies and caravans came from Parthia, Mesopotamia,
Bactria, and Afghanistan, by which many Greek, Persian, and Hindoo ideas and inventions were brought
to the Middle Kingdom. Traffic opened with the Roman Empire. Many things made in China and inscribed
with ancient Chinese letters have been found in Egypt and various parts of Africa and Europe. The
magnetic needle was used to guide travelers on land at night and in cloudy and stormy weather. It
was called the South Pointing Chariot, because to the Chinese mind the needle trembled in that
direction. Forcing their way over the mountains, Chinese pilgrims reached India to bring back news
of great treasure lands scarcely known before. Buddhist missionaries, for the first time, found
their way into China. The first two are said to have come riding eastward on white horses, and about
the same time that St. Paul was moving westward into Europe.
Thus began the long and glorious reign of the Indian and Aryan religion in China, blending Mongol
and Hindoo ideals of life. Buddhism has done much to uplift the Chinese people, cheer them in
affliction, and minister to their spiritual wants as Confucianism could not, besides offering the
greatest of all hopes,—life hereafter.
WIND BOX GORGE, SHOWING ROCK STRATA
Under Buddhism, the Chinese landscape was greatly changed. The country was covered with
 shrines and sculpture, pagodas, monasteries, and temples. The Hindoo and the Chinese were brought
together as brothers in the same household of faith. Asia became like a garden. Gradually the ideals
of the two races and civilizations commingled. The philosophy of India penetrated that of China. Of
the permanent and far-reaching influence of this religion we may have more to say. From this time
the intellect of the Chinese is touched with a new fertility, and their imagination stimulated.
China becomes the land of the pagoda. The law of tenderness and mercy sways life as never before.
One of the ministers of Wu-ti was a great explorer. He "pierced the void," that is, penetrated into
the extreme regions of the hitherto unknown Far West, and discovered the sources of the Yellow
River. Before his time this stream was believed to flow from the verge of Heaven, as a continuation
of the Milky Way. Taken prisoner by the wild tribes, he lived among them for many years, brought
back the grapevine, and re-taught his countrymen the art of wine-making.
Around this River of Heaven many pretty stories cluster, one of the most famous being that of the
Ox-boy and the Weaver-girl. These lovers meet on the night of August 7, every year, over a bridge of
magpies' wings. Many are the poems recited, the songs sung, and the charming customs based on this
legend, both in China and in Japan.
In the long course of centuries most of the
 famous personal adventures, exploits of travel, voyages, martial deeds, and visits to wonderful
caves, mountains, or forests by the various Chinese heroes became nursery legends or themes for
artists,—a veritable Milky Way, full of light, glory, and mystery. As with most other
histories, beside that of China, the people do not, cannot, retain in memory the dates, statistics,
or exact details. They hold the substance of these chiefly in poetry, art, and pleasing story,
retaining what is richest in human interest.