Wang Mang | early reign: mistakes
Early in his reign, now-Emperor Wang Mang was self-confident and believed that he now had the power to implement his ideals of restoring the legendary golden age of the early Zhou Dynasty. To those ends, he modified the governmental structure in many ways to conform with Zhou standards. He also continued the regime of modifying geographical names to fit with ancient names (or more euphemistic names, as he saw fit) – so much so that even imperial edicts discussing the locations by their new names were forced to include notes on the old names so that the recipients of the edicts could tell what locations he was referring to. As part of this regime, the capital Chang'an's name was changed as well, involving the change of a now-
In 9, Wang Mang made his wife, Lady Wang, empress. By this point, only two of her four sons were still alive. The older, Wang An (王安) was described as lacking in talent, so Wang made the younger, Wang Lin (王臨),
Wang, grateful to his aunt Grand Empress Dowager Wang (who, however, resented him for deceiving her and usurping the throne), continued to honor her as empress dowager, but also gave her an additional title of Wangmu (王母), the same title carried by the mother of
In 9, Wang Mang instituted a revolutionary land redistribution system, ordering that all land in the empire become legally the property of the empire, to be known as wangtian (王田), in a system similar to the Zhou
In 10, Wang set up a state economic adjustment agency, seeking to control fluctuations in the prices of food and textiles by purchasing excess goods and then selling them when the price went up. The same agency also became responsible for loaning money to entrepreneurs, at the rate of three percent per month. Six offices were set up: in Chang'an,
In the same year, Wang Mang instituted a "sloth tax": if landowners left land uncultivated, city dwellers left their houses without trees, or citizens refused to work, there would be penalties to be paid, with textile tributes. Those unable to pay the penalties would be required to work for the state.
In addition, in 10, Wang also instituted an unprecedented tax—the
Another economic change instituted by Wang—a fairly disastrous one—was to issue 28 types of coins, made of gold, silver, tortoise shells, sea shells, and copper. Because there were so many kinds of coins (versus the one kind that Han used), people became unable to recognize the kinds of coins as genuine or as counterfeit, and the money-based economy came to a halt. Eventually, Wang was forced to abolish all but two kinds of coins—the small coin that had the same value of a Han coin, and the large coin that had the value of 50 small coins. However, the people, despite fairly severe penalties, lost faith in the Xin coins, and continued to use Han coins in an underground trade economy.
In 17, in an attempt to refill the depleted imperial coffers, Wang instituted six monopolies on liquor, salt, iron, coinage, forestry, and fishing. However, because of rampant corruption, the imperial treasury received only limited benefit, while the people were greatly burdened.
The first sign of irritation came sometime before 10; the Xin director of
In 10, Wang sent his ambassadors to Xiongnu to inform Chanyu Zhi that he had become emperor and that Xin had replaced Han, and requested that the great seal of the chanyu, which Han had issued, be exchanged for a new seal issued by Xin. The old seal read, "the Great Seal of the Chanyu of Xiongnu" (匈奴單于璽, Xiongnu Chanyu Xi), while the new seal read, "the Seal of the Shanyu of Gongnu of Xin" (新恭奴善于章, Xin Gong-nu Shan-yu Zhang),
Wang, irritated, declared war against Xiongnu. The strategy that he set out was to divide the Xin forces into 12 armies to divide and conquer Xiongnu. Under this scenario, Chanyu Zhi would be attacked and forced to retreat to the Dingling tribes (around
In the first stage of this plan, one of the local commanders kidnapped one of Chanyu Zhi's brothers, Xian (咸), the Prince of Zuoliwu (左犁汙王), and his sons Deng (登) and Zhu (助), by trickery. Xian and Zhu were made Chanyus—to be two of the 15. Chanyu Zhi became enraged and started massive attacks against Xin border regions, causing the border regions much distress and loss in economic and human terms. Eventually, Xian escaped back to Xiongnu, but his sons were kept as hostages. After Zhu died, Deng succeeded him. However, in 12, after hearing reports that Xian's other son Jiao (角) had been a successful Xiongnu strategist in military actions, Wang, in anger, executed Deng and his attendants.
Later, in 13, Chanyu Zhi died. The powerful official Xubu Dang (須卜當) and his wife Yun, the Princess Yimuo (the daughter of Chanyu Huhanye and
Similarly, when Wang Mang first became emperor, his ambassadors visited the southwestern tribes (in modern
When Wang started his campaign against Xiongnu, he requisitioned the forces of Korean tribes within Xin borders. The Korean tribes refused, and marched out of Xin borders, and the army that Wang sent against them were defeated by them. The general Wang sent, Yan You (嚴尤), used humble words to trick their leader, Zou (騶), who was a marquess of Gaogouli (高句驪,
The troubles with
In 13, the dual kingdom
Also in 13, perhaps related to this, the Xiyu kingdoms joined forces and attacked the Xiyu commissioner Dan, and successfully killed him. The Xiyu kingdoms, by that point, no longer pledged allegiance to Xin. In 16, Wang made another attempt to intimidate the Xiyu kingdoms back into submission, but the armies were divided and cut off from each other. One army was entirely wiped out. The other was forced to withdraw to Qiuzi (龜茲, in modern
In addition to these wars, a major problem plaguing Wang Mang's administration was that he was so committed in determining the ancient governmental structure, believing that once things were restored to Zhou Dynasty standards, the government would be efficient. He and his officials spent inordinate amounts of time carrying out research of legends, leaving important affairs of the state undecided. A large number of counties lacked magistrates for years. The local officials, without supervision, became highly corrupt and oppressive of the populace.
Because of the way Wang came to power, he also became suspicious of allowing his subordinates to have too much power. Therefore, he made all important decisions by himself and did not delegate. This left him highly fatigued and many decisions unmade. Further, he entrusted eunuchs to screen the reports from local governments for him, but those eunuchs would decide to relay or not relay those reports based on their own personal likes and dislikes, and many important petitions went unanswered.
An even more serious problem was that the officials lacked salaries. Han had a well-defined system of official salaries, but when Wang became emperor, he ordered that the salary system be overhauled and recalibrated; however because a new system could not be created for years, the officials went without salary in the meantime. In response, they became corrupt in demanding bribes from the people, causing the people much distress. In 16, Wang finally issued the new salary system, which were to depend on how prosperous the state was to determine what the salaries were. However, because whether the state was in a prosperous year was a highly subjective matter, the officials continued to go without salary for the rest of the Xin Dynasty's existence.