The Story of Emperor Tang Tai tsong

In the twenty-fourth Year of the Cycle (627 A.D.), Tai Tsong began his Reign ; he was esteemed as one of the greatest Emperors China ever had , Chinese praise him above all for his Wisdom, and the easy Access to his Person, which he allowed, to all who were capable of giving him discreet Counsels, or had Courage enough to advertise him of his Faults : So great was his Temperance and Frugality, that he suffered no more than eight Dishes of Meat to be served up to his Table, and drove almost all the Concubines out of the Palace : He caused the best Books to be brought from all Parts, and became, in some respects, the Restorer of the Sciences, by the Care he took to reinstate in his Palace an Academy for Literature, wherein were reckoned 8000 Scholars, and amongst them many sons of foreign Princes : He provided them with able Masters, and of these he appointed eighteen of the most Ingenious to overlook their Studies ; He sounded also a Military Academy, where Archery was taught, and he himself often assisted at these exercises. It was not at all agreeable to the Ministers that the Emperor frequented this Academy, they represented to him the Unbecomingness, as well as the danger that might accrue there to his person, “I look upon my self in my Empire,” Answered Tai Tsong, “as a Father in his Family, and I love my Subjects as my Children ; what have I then to fear? ” This Affection for his Subjects made him say, That he wished his People to have always plenty of the common Necessaries of Life : Adding, “That the Welfare of the Empire depends upon the People: An Emperor who fleeces his People to enrich himself, is like a Man who cuts off his own Flesh to supply his Stomach, Which is filled, ’tis true, but in a short time his whole Body must perish. How many Emperors have owed their Ruin to their Ambition! What Expences were they at to maintain it ! and what heavy Taxes were charged upon the poor People to supply those Expenses ! When the People are rack’d and oppressed, what becomes of the Empire? Is it not upon the Brink of Destruction? and what is the Emperor if the Empire perish? these are the Reflections,” continued he, “that served to regulate my Desires.”

He forbade the Magistrates to receive of present upon pain of Death, and to be satisfied that his Orders were obeyed, he made a Tryal upon a Mandarin, by a Man whom he had suborned to make him a Present , the Mandarin received it, and the Emperor being informed thereof condemned him to Death. Upon this the Prime Minister spake to him, “Great Prince ! Your Sentence is just, and the Mandarin deserves Death ; but you, who have decoyed him into this Fault which he has committed, are you altogether innocent, and do not you partake of his Crime?” This Remonstrance had its Effect, and the Emperor pardoned the Offender. In the Year following one of the great Mandarins of War received likewise a Garment of Silk as a Present , the Emperor, who was told of it, sent him immediately a Quantity of the same Stuff; the Courtiers, who saw this, could not conceal their Resentment, and cryed out, “This Mandarin deserves a Punishment, and not a Reward.” The Emperor replied, ” The Confusion wherewith he will be struck, will be to him a Pain more severe than the sharpest Punishment: These Stuffs, which I sent him, are so far from contributing to his Honour, that they will continually reproach him with his Crime. ”

Whenever the Country was threatned with Scarcity, Drought, or immoderate Rains, after the Examples of the ancient Emperors, he published an Edict, by which he ordered his Miscarriages to be signified to him, that he might take Care to reform them, and appease the Wrath of Heaven. He gave no heed to Soothsayers ; for one Day as the Storks were building their Nests in his Presence, they stood and clapped their Wings ; his Mistresses testified their Joy, because the fluttering of their Wings portended him some unexpected good Luck ; the Emperor smil’d at their Discourse, and said, ” What signifies it? A happy Omen for me is to have wise Men about me,” and immediately ordered the Nest to be destroyed.

In the second Year of his Reign the Fields were covered with Locusts, which by the Havock they made threatned a general Famine. “ Mischievous Insects,” cried the Emperor with a deep Sigh, “in ruining the Crops, you destroy the Lives of my People. Alas! I had rather you would devour my own Bowels.” and at these Words swallowed a Locust alive.

In reading the Books of Physick, composed by the Emperor Hoang ti, he found that when a Man’s Shoulders are bruised or hurt, the vital Parts within are injured thereby; from that time he made a Law that no Criminal should be bastinado’d upon the Back, but upon the lower Parts, after the manner that has later been Practiced throughout by all Dynasties.

He used to say, “That an Emperor is like an Architect ; when a Fabrick is well built and grounded upon solid Foundations, if the Architect attempts any Alterations, he exposes it to certain Ruin : ‘Tis the same with the Empire, when once it is well established, and governed by good Laws, care must be taken not to introduce any Innovation.”

“’Tis a common Proverb,” saith he another time, “that an Emperor is feared by every body, and has nothing to be afraid of himself. This is not my Sentiment, I always stand in awe both of the Observation of the Emperor of Heaven, whom nothing can escape, and of the Eyes of my Subjects, which are continually fixed upon me. ‘Tis for this that, I watch every Moment over my self, that I may do nothing but what is agreeable to the Will of God, and to the Desires of my People.

To comfort his People in a time of Drought, he released the Prisoners, and granted a general Pardon, confessing nevertheless that this was an Indulgence, whereof a Prince ought to be very sparing, for fear that the Impunity of the Wicked might prove a Prejudice to the Publick, and that he ought to root out the Tares, lest they should damage the good Corn. In the seventh Year of his Reign he went in Person to the publick Prisons, in which were 390 capital Offenders; he set them all at Liberty, but with an Injunction to return thither after Harvest, which they, all to a Man did at the appointed Time. The Emperor was so surprized at their Exactness in keeping their Word, and so highly delighted therewith, that he granted them all their Lives and Liberty.

The Emperor made choice of thirteen Persons, most eminent for Merit and Integrity, to visit all Parts of his Empire, and gave them full Power to execute Justice, and to punish severely those Governors of Towns, and Viceroys of Provinces, whose Conduct deserved it.

In the tenth Year of his Reign he was deeply affected with the Loss of the Empress, whose Name was Tchang sun: She was a Princess of singular Discretion, joined with a Capacity not common among those of her Sex : It was observed, that while she lived there was not one of the great Number of Officers, who served in the Palace, that suffered severe Punishment, which is a thing almost without Example. The Emperor, being disgusted with the frequent and troublesome Admonitions of his Prime Minister Guei tching, forbade him his Presence ; the Empress, who was informed of it, put on immediately her richest dress, and went to her Husband, to whom she said, “ Prince, I have often heard that when an Emperor has Wisdom and Sagacity, his Subjects have Honesty, and fear not to speak the Truth, You have a Prime Minister that knows not how to dissemble ; by this I judge of your Wisdom, and how much it deserves to be admired, therefore I am come to express my Satisfaction, and to wish you Joy.” This Compliment appeased the Emperor, and the Minister was restored to favour ; This Princess composed a Book divided into thirty Chapters, concerning the Manner of Behaviour towards Women : The Emperor holding the Book in his Hands, and melting in Tears, “ See.” says he, “the Rules that ought to be observed in all Ages.” “I know,” added he, “that my Affliction proceeded from God, and cannot be remedied ; but when I reflect upon the Loss of so faithful and so excellent a Companion, and that I am for ever depriv’d of her good Counsels is it possible for me to refrain from Tears? ” He was willing to leave an eternal Monument of his Grief, and to that end raised a stately Tomb far more magnificent than that which he built for his Father, who died the Year before.

One Day being with his Prime Minister upon an Eminence, from whence they might have a View of this Mausoleum and taking particular Notice of it to him, the Prime Minister pretending he did not understand him, said, “Prince, I thought you shewed me the Sepulchre of your Father , as for that of your Spouse, I saw it long ago.” At this Discourse the Prince shed Tears, and stung with the secret Reproach of his Prime Minister, he ordered the Mausoleum to be demolished.

In the eleventh Year of his Reign he took in, to the Palace a young Girl of fourteen, named Vou chi, endowed with extraordinary Beauty, and the most agreeable Wit : This is she who afterwards usurped the Sovereign Power, and tyrannized over the Empire.

Guei tching, the Prime Minister, died in the Year seventeen, extremely regretted by the Emperor. This Prince wrote an Encomium upon him himself, and caused it to be engraved on his Tomb, and afterwards turning to his Courtiers, said, “We have three Sorts of Mirrors ; One is of Steel, which serves the Ladies for to dress their Heads, and set themselves out. The second, which I call so, are Books of Antiquity, wherein we read of the Rise, Progress, and Fall of Empires. The third are Men themselves ; by a little Study of whose Actions we see what to shun, and what to practice. I had this last Mirror in the Person or my Prime Minister, which to my Misfortune I have lost, Despairing to find such another.”

Another time that he entertained his Courtiers, he told them, “ A Prince has but one Heart, and this Heart is continually besieged by those about him : Some attack him by the Love of vain Glory, which they endeavour to inspire into him ; others by Luxury and Pleasures ; some by Caresses and Flattery ; others have Recourse to Subtlety and Falsehood in order to impose upon him, and all these Arts they make use of, aim at nothing but to insinuate into the good Graces of the Prince, to gain his Favour, and to be advanced to the high Offices and Dignities of the Empire : For one Moment that a Prince ceases to watch over his Heart, what has he not to fear?”

At the Age of twenty one he married the Daughter of his Prime Minister, called Siu hoei, and gave her the Title of Sage. This Princess was celebrated for her admirable Genius, and Skill in the Chinese Sciences ; ’tis said that at four Months old she began to speak, at four Years she got by Heart the Books of Confucius, and at eight Years old she made learned Compositions upon all sorts of Subjects : Thus much is certain, that she employed almost all her Time in Reading.

The Emperor had Thoughts of sending a formidable Army to reduce the Coreans, who had revolted, but his Death intervening that Expedition was deferred to another Time; ‘Tis scarce credible what Diligence and Care this Prince took for the Education of his Children ; every Object served as a Matter for their Instruction: If, for instance, he was eating Rice, he made them sensible how much Sweat and Toil this Rice Cost the poor Labourers : One Day as he was sailing with them upon the Water, “You see, my Children,” says he, “that this Boat is supported by the Water, which at the same time can overwhelm it, consider that the People resemble the Water, and the Emperor the Boat.”

The Year before his Death he gave his Successor the twelve following Advices, which he expressed in twenty four Characters. “ Govern well your Heart , and all its Inclinations. Promote none but Persons of Merit into Places and Dignities. Encourage wise Men to come to your Court. Watch over the conduct of Magistrates. Drive Slanderers from your Presence. Be an Enemy to Pomp. Keep good Economy. Let your Rewards and Punishments be proportionable to Merit and Crimes. Have special Regard to the Encouragement of Agriculture. Art Military, Laws and Learning. Search among the former Emperors for Models to form your Government upon, for I do not deserve to be regarded as such, having made too many Slips while I governed the Empire. Have an Eye always upon the most perfect Pattern, without which you will never keep a just Medium, wherein Virtue consists. Lastly, Take Care that the Splendor of your Rank puff you not up with Pride, and that you indulge not your self in the Pleasures of a voluptuous Life, for so you will ruin both the Empire and your self.”

Tai tsong died in the forty-sixth Year of the Cycle, and the fifty-third of his Age ; in the Year following his Son Kao tsong was acknowledged Emperor.

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