It is generally said that Wang Mang is a “reform based on the past”. It is believed that Wang Mang’s real purpose is to reform or usurp power. “The past” is just a pretext, just a pretext. I think Wang Mang is sincere in restoring the ancients, because he regards the ancient society described in the Confucian classics as an achievable goal. If Wang Mang’s restoration was only for usurping power, he could change his course after becoming a new emperor, but the substantive reforms he carried out were all after becoming an emperor. After Wang Mang came to power, he stubbornly pursued his retro reform with greater enthusiasm and pushed himself to a dead end.
Wang Mang once made people of all social classes and identities gain practical benefits, thus winning the widest support. However, without the increase of social wealth, such a policy has no material basis at all, and can only accelerate the depletion of the national treasury and financial collapse. These interests have also induced the beneficiaries to expect too much of Wang Mang and his reform. Once things go against their wishes, these supporters will immediately become opponents. This is true of intellectuals, as well as other classes and strata.
Wang Mang wants to improve the lives of the people, the poor and even the slaves without violating the interests of the nobility, the powerful and the bureaucrats. It is completely wishful thinking. Wang Mang’s reform will increase the salaries of the officials of the princes and the expenses for supporting scholars, which will inevitably reduce the land of farmers and increase the taxes of the people; In order to alleviate the land contradiction and reduce the people’s taxes, the only way is to cut down the court expenses, cut down the aristocratic bureaucrats and limit their land occupation; It is absolutely difficult to have both.
When Wang Mang’s reform was implemented, he did not hesitate to offend everyone in order to achieve the goal of perfection. For example, in the first year of the founding of the people’s Republic of China (A.D. 9), Wang Mang announced the policy of changing the name of tiantiantian to “Wangtian” and changing the name of slaves to “private ownership” with regard to the focus of social contradictions, namely, land and slaves. Every family with less than eight men may not use more than one well of land, and the excess must be distributed to the neighbors of nine ethnic groups. Those who originally had no land can receive it according to the system. It is also stipulated that those who dare to speak ill of the “Jingtian holy system” and those who violate laws and regulations to spread rumors to mislead the public should be escorted to the frontier.
This reform of Wang Mang’s system will naturally be fiercely opposed by the big landlords, because they occupy more than one well of land. Asking them to hand over the surplus land is tantamount to cutting their flesh. Most of the slaves they occupied were used for agricultural production. Now they have handed over all the land. Are they keeping the slaves for nothing? And the slaves were not allowed to buy or sell, so they were forced to give it away for nothing? Since there is neither feasibility nor practical coercive measures, most of the surplus land of the powerful landlords has not been handed over, so the government does not have enough land to distribute to the landless and landless peasants who should receive the land. Naturally, the peasants will not be satisfied with this empty paper. Three years later, Wang Mang had to give in, so the sale of land and slaves was legally resumed. The original owner must claim back the land that had been handed over to the public and “received” by others. So far, Wang Mang’s reform has offended the only beneficiary who supports this policy.
Because Wang manggai set too high a goal, and was deeply influenced by the “differentiation between barbarians and Xia”, he also adopted a series of wrong policies towards the overseas political power of the border ethnic minorities. However, later, although Wang Mang’s reform was a complete failure, when he was at the end of his life, there were more than a thousand people willing to die with him, and he also revealed some real information to future generations.