Reasons for Wang Mang's failure
Wang's reforms have been said to be a foreshadowing of socialism. The reasons why he failed were complicated. The Qing Dynasty historian Zhao Yi (趙翼) made the following remarks, which, while perhaps overly derogating of Wang, were not inaccurate:
- The first of Wang Mang's failures was to seize all private land under the wangtian system and prohibiting land transactions. If a person's land exceeded 0.6 square kilometers, then he must distribute them to neighbors or relatives. Those who dared to oppose it were exiled to the wild borderland. He also prohibited people from saving and using the Han coins that the people considered reliable, and he also exiled those who violated this policy. Therefore, farmers and tradesmen lost their livelihood. Further, those who were severely punished for trading land or trading Han coins were innumerable. He then created the six monopolies, ordering local governments to monopolize liquor, salt, and iron, and he created taxes on the goods coming out of mountains, forests, and lakes. These are all policies that angered the Chinese.
- Wang Mang thought he had already brought Xiongnu to the north, Koreans to the east, and Huangzhi tribes to the south to submission, but he had no accomplishments in the west, so he encouraged the Qiang tribes to offer their lands to establish the Commandery of Xihai, but after the Qiang tribes lost their lands, they rebelled. He also demoted the barbaric princes to marquesses. He sent ambassadors to issue a new seal to the Xiongnu chanyu, changing the text of the great seal. Chanyu wanted the old seal, but the ambassadors destroyed it. Chanyu became angry and therefore began to disturb the northern territories. The Prince of Juting also rebelled because he was demoted to marquess status. These are all policies that angered the foreigners.
- Because of Xiongnu raids, Wang Mang sent 12 generals and 180 officers to lead a force of 300,000 men. When those who violated the coinage policy and their neighbors were all arrested, Wang made these condemned people soldiers. Men were put into stock cars, while women and children were forced to walk with chains around their necks. Their numbers exceeded 100,000. After they arrived, husbands and wives were separated from each other and given over to other men and women. Local governments were required to transport food from the regions of the Yangtze River and the East Sea to the northern extremes. The troops that arrived first were required to wait for the entire army to be constituted before attacking. Therefore, the generals and the officers became lawless in the northern territories and became a major disaster. The Commanderies of Wuyuan and Dai suffered the most. The forces attacking Juting suffered losses of 50 to 60 percent. These are all policies that, because of Wang Mang's militarism, caused foreign states to be embroiled in enmity with China.
- Therefore, as a result, the empire boiled like water, and the people rose against him. Gengshi, Chimei, and Guangwu all claimed to have Liu ancestry to obtain support. Many know that Wang Mang's defeat was because the people missed Han Dynasty, but they do not know that the reason why the people missed the Han Dynasty was because of Wang Mang. When Wang Mang first became regent, he accomplished many great deeds to become the basis for his greater evil acts, but these were only acts of ordinary treacherous men. After he usurped the throne, he did not know how to comfort and guide the people, and felt that he could ceaselessly deceive everyone. Therefore, he caused both the Chinese and the foreigners to hate him.
- The entire empire was already collapsing, but Wang Mang did not care, but rather buried his head in what is old, believing that once he returned the government structure to the old days, the empire will be peaceful. He only sought to establish proper ceremony and music day and night, and he sought to create explanations for all of the Confucian classics by making tortured interpretations, without spending time on the important affairs of state. Before he could complete his ceremonies and music, he was already killed. This kind of behavior is even more childish than a three-year-old child. There is a common contemporary idiom, "foolishness is but a form of trickery." But for Wang Mang, his trickery was only a form of foolishness.