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the Emperor made him District Magistrate () or Chin-hsien in Ningp'o. He dredged the river and built dikes, protecting the land from overflow, and lent grain to the people until they should have a harvest, when they repaid him.
This with other kind acts soon won for him the confidence and regard of the people, and in a short time he was made Assistant Sub-prefect() of Shu-chou. The Prime Minister, Wen Djen-po, that precocious youth who, when his ball fell into the well, threw stones in until he raised it to his level, recommended his ability so highly that the Emperor summoned him for the purpose of examining him for promotion, but he refused to come.
The President of the Imperial Academy recommended him for the title of Censor (), but Wang An-shih refused to receive it, giving as a reason that his grandmother was sick and old, and he wanted to serve her. But at once he was made Department Magistrate () of Ch'ang-chou. All the officials at the capital recognized his ability and respected him, because he was not covetous of rank, riches nor honor, and were sorry because he would not come to the capital that they might see him. The Emperor attempted again and again to advance him to the position of a high official(), but he continually refused to accept it.
Soon, however, he was advanced to the position of Surveyor of the Board of Revenue (NT). He then sent a document of 10,000 characters (#), in which he said that the wealth of the country was daily growing less and the habits of the people were daily becoming worse, because they, as well as the Emperor, neither understood nor conformed to the ancient customs. Were they to study these ancient customs and acquire wealth according to their strength the wealth of the country would be sufficient.
The Emperor at once sent a messenger to tell him that he was advanced to the office of Recorder of the Imperial Acts (tz ). A whole day he refused to receive this office. The messenger offered him the proclamation, which he refused to receive, but went into his own private rooms. The messenger followed him, put the proclamation on the table and went away. Wang An-shih sent his servant to return the proclamation to the Emperor, together with his refusal of the office, which the Emperor refused again and again to receive, until Wang An-shih consented to accept the office.
Not long after this he was advanced to the position of Recorder of the Imperial Will (), which he accepted at once. Soon after this his mother died, and he gave up his official rank till the time of the following Emperor (), who summoned him several times, but he continually refused to come. We have dwelt thus long on this portion of his life, because historians attribute all
these refusals to "excess of humility, the sincerity of which is doubted."
The teacher of this Emperor's son () while teaching the young Prince (E) used so many striking expressions and theories that he merited and received much praise. But unwilling to accept what was due to another he said that what the Prince praised was not his teaching but that of his friend Wang An-shih. This raised the latter to a high place in the estimation of the Prince, and when he ascended the throne as Shen Tsung he immediately selected Wang An-shih as Prefect (F) of Chiang-ningfu. Everyone thought that Wang An-shih would refuse, but he accepted at once.
Let me call especial attention to the Prime Minister, whom we must mention several times in this essay. His name was Han Ch'i, his epitaph was "Faithful and Wise," and he had been Prime Minister during three reigns. He had become famous during his youth in connection with Fan Chung-yen (f) in a war with (Chao Yuan-hao of Hsi-hsia) the rebels on the north-western border. They had drilled the soldiers and horses so thoroughly that they were enabled to defeat the enemy in several battles, and established peace for many years in the north-west. In commemoration of the ability of these two men, and especially of their generalship, the soldiers sang the following song:
When the young Emperor Shen Tsung came to the throne he "became the tool of a clique, which endeavored to compass the disgrace of Han Ch'i,"† "and they succeeded so far in their designs" that this Prime Minister of three reigns "felt compelled to resign his office." Wang An-shih, whether consciously or unconsciously, became the centre of this clique, and was recommended by the Second Prime Minister (A) instead of the "faithful and wise" Han Ch'i. When the Emperor asked Han Ch'i whether Wang An-shih was a proper person to succeed him he replied: "He may be of service as Chancellor of the Imperial Academy * Chinese Reader's Manual, p. 243.
+ Boulger, Vol. I, p. 398.
(#1), but he has not had the requisite amount of experience for the office of Prime Minister." When Han Ch'i was warned of the danger of his candor he made the following noble reply: "A faithful subject ought ever to serve his Prince with all the zeal of which he is capable. Good or bad fortune depends on heaven, and when we have done what we ought should fear deter us from continuing in the path of well-doing?”
The Emperor at once made Wang An-shih Chancellor of the Academy. This brought him to the capital to consult with the Emperor concerning the government. This pleased the Emperor, because he wanted his assistance. Nevertheless there was opposition to him. The Vice-Prime Minister (4) expressed the same opinion that Han Ch'i had, viz., that no heavy responsibility should be placed upon him. The Imperial Reader () said that he was proud, narrow-hearted and intolerant, all of which were most likely true. The Emperor did not believe it, but at once made him VicePrime Minister (), saying at the same time: "All people do not know your ability, for they say you only know how to study books, but do not understand the concerns of the state." This was only a polite way of telling him that people thought him a visionary. Wang An-shih simply answered: "To know how to study books is to know how to govern the country." "And," continues the historian, "at once he began to think of establishing a new system of government."
His first step was to establish an office to legislate concerning the taxes and take care of the revenue (1), putting his associate (章惇) as the first official(三司條例官) and sent eight (minor) officials to inspect the system of agriculture (農 田), water facilities (水利), taxes (賦稅) and various industries (), declaring at the same time that "the state should take the entire management of commerce, industry and agriculture into its own hands, with the view of succouring the working classes and preventing their being ground to dust by the rich."
During his term of office these views were carried into execution. "The poor were to be exempt from taxation, land was allotted to them and the seed-corn provided. Everyone was to have a sufficiency; there were to be no poor, no over-rich. The masses expected their chosen minister would confer on them the greatest benefits and the least discomfort entailed by human existence. China was to rejoice in an ideal happiness, because the people were to possess the main advantages of life, which were stated to be plenty and pleasure."†
The Assistant Magistrate () of Chen-chou, at the close of his term of office, came to the capital to call on Wang An-shih for the purpose of consultation. They agreed so perfectly in their views that they at once became friends. All the documents which were originated by Wang An-shih for the establishment of the new system of government were written by this Assistant Magistrate, Lü Hui-ch‘ing.
As might be expected from the two parties that existed, widely different views were held as to the character and ability of Wang An-shih." "Many of the officials," says our historian, "thought An Shih a wise and good man," while others said that he had only a partial view of affairs, and was glad to have men flatter and obey him. The Minister (L) of the "School for the Sons of the Empire" (7) accused An Shih of changing the customs of the ancients and of avariciously extorting money from the people, and asked the Emperor to cast him off. The Emperor kept his document without returning an answer, at which treatment he gave up his official rank. An Shih at once sent a man to tell him that he would raise him to the position of Recorder of the Imperial Will, but as he regarded this merely as a scheme to tempt him with rank he refused to accept it. This is the only instance among all the officials who opposed Wang An-shih,. where he attempted a reconciliation. With this single exception among twenty men, spoken of in history as "good officials," but who opposed Wang Anshih and his system of government, everyone was stripped of his rank and sent to an out-post, without any attempt at reconciliation except in the case of a single individual.
Let me now call attention particularly to the laws which Wang An-shih established to bring about this ideal government.
1. The Seed Grain Law (TA).
When the Salt Commissioner () of Shan-hsi found it necessary to have a guard of soldiers to protect him and his interests, he complained that the rations were inadequate, and asked the people to estimate how much they would need for themselves for one year. He offered to lend them money as Wang An-shih had lent grain to the people at Chin-hsien, till after the harvest, when they were to repay it in grain with interest. This money which he lent them was called Seed Grain Money (##).
This was carried on for some years, exactly in harmony with the plan that Wang An-shih had originated years before. The surplus of grain in the granaries increased, and, like Confucius, with his little system of government, An-shih insisted that this same principle could be carried on throughout the whole empire. The
people wanted to borrow the money, so they lent it to them till the harvest, when they were to repay it with interest at 2% a month. Those who did not wish to pay in money could pay in grain and vice versa. In case of famine they were not compelled to pay the interest that year, but could wait till a year of plenty, when they could pay up their arrears. This protected the people not only from the evils of famine but also from the avarice of rich men who, when the poor were compelled to borrow, charged an exhorbitant interest-50 to 100%. This law was called the Seed Grain Law (青苗法).
Wang An-shih and his associate (E) published this law and placed it before the people and the officials saying: "This is the Seed Grain Law. If it is inexpedient please point out how it is so."
In answer to this the Secretary of the Tax Office () said: "If we lend the money to the people it is to save the people, but if we lend out money and receive interest it will only be an additional means of corrupting the officials." Moreover, "when the people get the money, although they are good, they cannot avoid making a bad use of it, and when the time comes to pay it back, even the rich will not avoid running over the time, and on this account punishment will have to be inflicted, and thus the punishments of both the Chou and the Hsien will be increased."
An Shih answered: "What you say, Sir, is certainly right. I will think about it awhile." And for more than a month after this nothing more was said of the Seed Grain Law.
Fortunately for this law the Salt Commissioner (EH) at Ching-tung presented a document, in which he said :
"Now is the planting season, and all the people are very poor. The rich people are getting exhorbitant interest. I therefore ask the Emperor to lend the people 500,000 tiao, and in the autumn he shall receive 250,000 tiao interest." The Emperor promised to do so. This agreed with the idea of the Seed Grain Law, and An Shih forthwith thought that the law could be enacted, and called this Salt Commissioner to come to the capital to consult with him and determine whether or not it should be done.
The Prime Ministers at that time were Fu Pi () and Tseng Kung-liang (TA), and the Vice-Prime Ministers were Ch'en Sheng-chih (k) and Wang An-shih. When the First Prime Minister saw how the Emperor trusted An Shih, and knew that he was not able to defeat this project, he presented his resignation on plea of illness. The Emperor said to him: "Since you are surely going to give up your position whom would you recommend to take your place ?" He recommended Wen Yen-po. The Em