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Pan Ku's Accusations against Wang Mang Hans Bielenstein The historian Pan Ku 血固 (d. A.D. 92) was a partisan of the Han dynasty and consequently a harsh critic of Wang Mang 王莽. Guided by political necessity and a philosophy of history which was based on the theory of the Mandate of Heaven, he tried to show why ~代langMang had been unworthy to found a new dynasty and how he consequently had failed. From this perspective, the man who had actually been an emperor from A.D. 9 to 23 appears to shrink into a mad usurper, a view which has been echoed by most Chinese and Western historians ever since. A few, such as Hu Shih 胡適, went to the opposite eχtreme and reinterpreted \州ang Mang as a visionary and selfless social reformer.1 But no balanced verdict has so far been attempted. This may also have been influenced by the fact that relatively little is known about the man andhis reign. When Pan Ku compiled the Han shu 漢書, he intentionally devoted no biographies to Wang Mang's chief assistants. All we have is Wang Mang's own biography (chüan 99 A-C), though this is fairly long. ln 1935, 1ventured a first step toward an objective assessment of Wang Mang by analyzing the reasons for his fall. 1concluded that he did not provoke rebellion by his policies, and that the civil war was brought on by the cumulative, catastrophic, and uncontrollable effects of a change in the course of the Yellow River.2 1 was doubtful at that time whether Hu Shih, 'Wang Mang, the Socialist Emperor of Nineteen Centuries Ago', /ournal of the North China Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 59 (1928), 218 ff. The Restoration of the Han Dynas旬, With Prolegomena on the Historiography of the Hou Han shu (Götebo嗯, 1953). Also included in the Bulletin of the Museum of Fαr Eastem Antiquities, 26 (1954), 1-209. 265 Hans Bielenstein it would be possible to progress much further in appraising Wang Mang. But this view, on reconsideration, was too pessimistic. There are some conclusions which can clearly be drawn from the very absence of information. For example, if Wang Mang was as objectionable as depicted by Pan Ku, why did no one try to assassinate him7 If his government was so abhorrent to the gentry, why did it not attempt a single uprising against him from A.D. 10 to 207 Common sense requires a number of further questions. What, in spite of Hu Shih, was novel about Wang Mang's policies7 Monopolies had been introduced by the Former Han from 117 B.C., were kept by Wang Mang, and resumed by the Later Han. Casting of coins had become a government monopoly in 112 B.C., was reaffirmed by \句ang Mang, and continued by the Later Han. The income from mountains and marshes had been set aside for the emperor's personal use during Former Han, which practice was maintained by Wang Mang and the Later Han. Wang Mang's taχon artisans and merchants was modelled on Emperor Wu's tax of 119 B.C., but was lighter. Currency had been debased by Emperor Wu from 119 B.C. onward without ruining the economy, and this was undoubtedly also true for Wang Mang's enactments. Price stabilization was begun in 110 B.C., carried on by Wang Ma嗯, and in A.D. 62 reintroduced by the Later Han. Wang Mang's changes in official terminology had been preceded by massive changes in 144 and 104 B.C. Land reform had not been attempted before Wang Ma嗯, but had been warmly advocated for centuries. His prohibition on buying and selling private slaves did not rescind ownership and affected only a tiny part of society. It is clear, then, that Wang 恥1ang was not an innovator. Apart from his brief and unsuccessful attempts at land reform and restriction of slavery (both were rescinded in A.D. 12), his policies were firmly rooted in Han practice. It might be countered that for a variety of reasons justified resentment may nevertheless have smouldered throughout Wang Mang's reign, and that the official attitude of Later Han not only was dictated by eχpediency but also reflected this real resentment. Is it possible to evaluate such a claim7 1think it is. There is one line of inquiry which so far has not been attempted. When Pan Ku wrote the biography of Wang Mang, he larded it...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9789882200692
Related ISBN
9789622091894
MARC Record
OCLC
642685731
Pages
360
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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