Chinese History from Mythology to the Three Kingdoms - 2001
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- Source Texts
- Romance of the Three Kingdoms
- 1 1. Origin of the People (Antiquity)
- 2 2. Mythological Era (BC 5000-2200)
- 3 3. The Xia Dynasty (BC 2200-1700)
- 4 4. The Shang Dynasty (BC 1700-1050)
- 5 5. The Zhou Dynasty (BC 1050-221)
- 6 6. The Qin Dynasty (BC 221-206)
- 7 7. The Han Dynasty (BC 206-AD 220)
- 8 8. Web Ressources - History of China
1. Origin of the People (Antiquity)
The inhabitants of China are known to the world as Chinese. They speak of themselves as the "people of Han." As Han is name of a dynasty, it hardly denote the origin of the people. Many theories, based more or less upon religious myths, have been advanced to show whence the first inhabitants of China came; but their correctness must necessarily await further scientific discoveries. All accounts, however, agree that the basin of the Yellow River was the cradle of the Chinese culture, and that their ancestors were a nomadic people who, some five or six thousand years ago, migrated from the north-western part of Asia and finally settled in the northern-central part of what is now China.
They soon learned how to till the ground and produce grain. As time went on, the settlers formed themselves into tribes ruled by chieftains. Wars with the aborigines and among the different tribes were frequent. The result was that the original inhabitants were driven off in all directions, and the most powerful chieftain became the acknowledged head. As to how long this state of affairs had continued to exist, history is silent. What we do know of this period is founded largely upon the law of evolution, which is common to all peoples.
2. Mythological Era (BC 5000-2200)
2.1. Age of the Three Divine Rulers
Given the first rank among the chieftains is Fuxi, or "Conqueror of Animals." He taught his subjects how to catch animals and fish with nets and to rear domestic animals for food. He is also the originator of the writing system which, with their improvements and modifications of ages, has been handed down to us in the form of the modern Chinese characters.
Before Fuxi, there lived in the pre-historic times a ruler, called Sui Jen, "Producer of Fire." As the name implies, he is believed to have been the man who brought down fire from heaven for the first time and employed it in the preparation of food. Before his time the people lived like wild beasts and ate their food raw.
Some 1300 years after Fuxi, the throne fell to Shennong, or "God of Agriculture," who taught the people the art agriculture and the use of herbs as medicine.
The three foregoing rulers are commonly spoken of by historians as the "Three Divine Rulers."
2.2. The Yellow Sovereign
The successors of Shennong were all rulers of inferior ability, and unable to check the encroachments of the savage tribes whose subjugation was left to Huang Di, or the Yellow Emperor. He was a warrior as well as a statesman. He has been immortalized by the famous battle of Zhuo Lu, where he used a compass to locate his chief enemy and defeat him. His chief enemy was among those killed in the battle, and this victory is believed to have prepared the way for a permanent Chinese settlement in the Middle Kingdom.
After this conquest of the aborigines, Huang Di was placed on the throne. He took his title from the color of the earth, believing that he had come into power by its virtue. His kingdom spread north and west to the desert, east to the ocean, and south to the Great River ((Yangtze River)). This was the largest empire hitherto known in China.
His rule lasted 100 years, a century of progress and enlightenment. He is commonly believed to have been the inventor of boats, carts, bow, arrows, bamboo musical instruments, copper coins, calendar, and fixed standard weight and measures, and more. His ministers invented six kinds of writing, constructed a Celestial Globe, and recorded the movement of stars. His wife taught the people how to rear silkworms and weave silk, and has been regarded as the goddess of the silk industry.
Huang Di, his grandson, his great-grand son, Yao, and Shun are commonly spoken of as the Five Sovereigns.
2.3. Yao and Shun (BC 2400-2200)
2.3.1. Yao: Chinese historians generally regard the accession of Yao as the dawn of authentic history. The first official act of Yao was to give his people a more correct calendar than that which had previously existed. This system has been followed throughout all the succeeding ages. Every one had access to his court either to offer a suggestion or to make a criticism. No important appointment was ever made without the advice and consent of the chiefs of the feudal lords; and, as the result, his administration was a great success.
The prosperity of the nation was, however, temporarily disturbed by a thirteen-year flood which began in the sixty-first year of Yao's reign. It was a terrible disaster, and Yao was greatly grieved by the sufferings of his people. With some hesitation, the great task of reducing the waters was assigned to Gun, who failed, and for this failure and other crimes, was put to death by Shun, Yao's son-in-law and co-ruler. Strange as it may seem, Yu, son of Gun, was recommended to the throne by Shun.
It took Yu eight years to finish the work. Instead of building high embankments as his father had done, he deepened the beds of existing rivers and cut as many channels as were necessary to carry the water off to the sea. By his great engineering success, he soon became the idol of the nation. "We would have been fish but for Yu" is a saying which has come down to us from those days.
2.3.2. Shun: Yao ruled 100 years. From the seventy-third year of his reign, however, Shun was actually the head of the government and acted as regent. Yao died at the age of 117; and, as he was not pleased with the conduct of his own son, he left the throne to Shun.
After the death of Yao, Shun refused to take the throne which had been left for him. He evidently wished to give Yao's son an opportunity to succeed his illustrious father. Public opinion, however, was so strong in favor of Shun that, at the end of the three years of mourning, he reluctantly assumed the royal title.
We have seen that Shun was the son-in-law of Yao. One naturally thinks that a man must be a prince, or high official, before he may become the son-in-law of a sovereign. Shun was neither. He was but a farmer, and one whose early life was not at all happy. According to tradition, his mother died when he was young, and his father married again and had more children. His stepmother never liked him; and, under her influence, the father, who was blind, and his half-brothers hated him. Shun never complained, and finally his filial piety overcame all prejudices.
His fame spread far and wide and soon reached the ear of Yao, who had begun to feel the burden of the government. Shun having been recommended to the sovereign by the feudal lords as the man best fitted to be his successor, Yao thereupon gave both of his daughters to him in marriage. Thus at the age of 30, Shun was obliged to give up a farmer's life to share the responsibilities of governing an empire.
Shun's administrative abilities soon justified the confidence placed in him by Yao. He called from private life many capable people to take part in the administration of the government, and did not hesitate for a moment to punish those who were unworthy of trust. Among the former, Yu the Great was his prime minister. Shun was the author of the scheme by which all ministers directly responsible to the throne were required to give a strict account of their administration or department every third year. He further made the rule that feudal prince should report in person to the royal court every year and the overlord or king make a tour of inspection every fifth year. Shun had ruled as emperor for 47 years and was succeeded by Yu the Great.
Yao and Shun are regarded as the ideal rulers in China. Much of their unrivaled popularity is undoubtedly due to the eulogies of Confucius and Confucian scholars, who have endowed them with every virtue known to humans. They are worshipped not because of the deeds they performed, but because of the spotless lives they led. They are models as humans and rulers, and their days are generally accepted as the Golden Age in Chinese history. No greater honor can be paid to a Chinese emperor than to compare him to Yao and Shun.
3. The Xia Dynasty (BC 2200-1700)
3.1. Yu the Great: Following the example of Yao, Shun made Yu co-ruler in the twenty-third year of his reign. Yu was, therefore, actually in power when Shun died; but being anxious to give Shun's son a chance, he made an attempt to retire. However, his great success in restoring the flooded lands and his subsequent services to the State, had long eclipsed the would-be heir-apparent. When the people had to choose between a tried statesman and one who had no other claim to the throne than that based upon his birth, their preference was naturally for the former.
So, after the period of mourning, Yu was elected to the throne. He moved his capital to Anyi, and adopted the name of his former principality, Xia, as the name of the dynasty he now founded. To show his gratitude, he made the sons of Yao and Shun feudal lords over territories called Tang and Yu, respectively.
Yu, as ruler, desired to maintain the closest relations with his people, and caused to be hung at the entrance to his court five instruments---a drum, a gong, a stone instrument, a bell, and a rattle. The drum was to announce the coming of a caller who desired to discourse with him upon any of the virtues which should adorn a monarch. By beating the gong, he who disapproved of the king's conduct could be admitted to audience. If any one had important news, or personal grievances to communicate, he had but to strike the stone instrument, or ring the bell, as the case might be, in order to gain admittance; while the king was always ready to hear any appeal from the judicial decisions of his judges whenever he heard the sound of the rattle. These instruments kept Yu so very busy that, as historians inform us, he was always late at his midday meal.
The discovery of intoxicating spirits has been traced to Yu's time; but Yi Di, the discoverer, was dismissed from the public service by the sovereign, who said in the presence of his ministers: "The day is coming when the liquor will cost someone a kingdom."
As a monument to his greatness, Yu, in the fourth year of his reign, cast nine metal tripods, and engraved descriptions of the Nine Regions on each of them. These emblems of royalty, as the tripods have been regarded, were then placed in the ancestral temple of Yu. As Yu was ninety-three years when he came to the throne, he did not rule long before death put an end to his distinguished eight-year career.
The Xia Dynasty is worthy of note for the fact that after Yu the throne ceased to be elective and became hereditary. No selfish motive, however, could be attributed to Yu. Gao Yu, to whom he would have gladly resigned the throne, had died. As his own son, Ji, inherited many of his kingly virtues, it was but natural that the people, who had so much to say in the matter, should insist, as they did, upon Ji's inheriting the throne. Ji's reign was one of prosperity and peace.
3.2. Jie and Mei Xi: Passing over some fourteen kings, we come to the days of the notorious Jie, the seventeenth and last king of the house of Xia. Jie was a man of extraordinary strength, but was no statesman. He conquered many tribes who had refused to submit to his authority; but his military achievements made him haughty, willful, and cruel, and he became both extravagant and immoral. He refused to heed the advice of the wise, and spent his time among bad women, of whom Mei Xi was the most notorious.
Mei Xi was beautiful but wicked. She had been given to Jie as ransom by a noble whom the king had humbled. It is commonly believed that she was largely responsible for the downfall of the Xia Dynasty. According to tradition, there was a lake full of liquor in the palace of Jie. At a given signal, three thousand persons jumped into this lake and drank like cattle, for the drunken conduct of such revelers was the principal amusement of the king and his royal concubine. To please her, an underground palace was built at an immense cost. Here Jie enjoyed all kinds of vice by day and by night while the affairs of state were entirely neglected.
Extra taxation had to be resorted to, in order to provide means to meet the heavy expenditure of Jie; but this so alienated the hearts of the people that a rebellion was started by a virtuous noble named Tang. Little resistance was possible, and Jie, after having led a most wanton royal life for fifty-three years, died in exile.
4. The Shang Dynasty (BC 1700-1050)
4.1. Tang, the Founder of the Dynasty: Tang, who was said to have descended from the minister of education under Shun, was the founder of the Shang Dynasty, named after the principality bestowed on him for his services. The capital was moved to Bo for this new family of rulers.
The battle of Ming Diao, which resulted in the overthrow of Jie, gave Tang the title of "Victorious." In fact, his revolution was the first successful one recorded in Chinese history. It is stated that he never felt happy afterwards, because he feared that his action in taking up arms against Jie, his sovereign, might be viewed by succeeding ages in the light of a usurpation. One of his ministers tried, by an able address, to convince him that what he did was in strict accord with the will of Heaven, since Jie had sinned against Heaven and humans. This view is fully shared by Confucian scholars, who not only exonerate Tang, but rank him with the celebrated rulers of antiquity.
A fearful drought commenced in the second year of Tang's reign and lasted seven years. The suffering among the people was beyond description. Money was coined and freely distributed among the poor, but this hardly relieved the situation. Having exhausted all means in his power, Tang finally appealed to God by going to a mulberry grove and there offering his prayer. He confessed his sins and offered his own life for the benefit of the people. "Do not destroy my people," said he, "because of my sins!" The reply to his prayer was a copious rain. Tang was so much delighted with the result of the appeal to Heaven, that he composed a new hymn to which he gave the name of "Mulberry Grove."
4.2. Tai Jia: Tang's son having died before him, Tai Jia, his grandson, came to the throne after his death. This sovereign was weak and was soon led astray by bad ministers. Fortunately for him and the dynasty, Yi Yin, who had placed the crown upon the head of Tang, was close at hand.
Several times Yi Yin remonstrated with the young ruler by calling attention to the good qualities which distinguished Tang and the causes of the downfall of the Xia Dynasty. To all this, Tai Jia turned a deaf ear. Yi Yin, who preferred to commit an irregularity rather than see the empire fall to pieces through the follies of Tai Jia, made up his mind to take strong measures. Tai Jia was dethroned and made to live near the tomb of Tang, while Yi Yin assumed the exercise of royal functions in the capacity of regent.
This unprecedented action on the part of Yi Yin had a most salutary effect, for the change of environment worked a complete reformation in Tai Jia, who returned at the end of three years to Bo, a thoroughly repentant man and competent ruler. To him Yi Yin gladly restored all royal powers.
It was this act of Yi Yin rather than his services in building up an empire that has made him immortal. Whether he did right in temporarily dethroning the king was open to question, until a final verdict was rendered by Mencius who thought that his ends amply justified his means. This historical event attests the extent of the power exercised by a prime minister in those days.
4.3. Wu Ding: Wu Ding, the twentieth ruler, is famous for two things---the way in which he obtained the services of an able minister and the expedition he led against the Tartars.
According to tradition, Wu Ding never spoke a word during the time of mourning, but permitted, his prime minister to manage the state affairs for him. When the mourning was over, the prime minister resigned on account of age. To find a successor to such a brilliant man was no easy task. Wu Ding, therefore, appealed to God, and a man was revealed to him in a dream. He made a picture of the man of his dream and ordered a search to be made for him. A mason was at length found who answered the description given and who was at once ushered before Wu Ding. The king was very much pleased with the words of the mason and made him Prime Minister at once. This man was Fu Yue.
Modern historians think that Wu Ding had known Fu Yue well, and that the dream was a mere pretense on the part of the king who did not wish to raise a mason to so important an office as that of prime minister without some better excuse than his own knowledge of the man. Fu Yue, however, proved to be the right man for the place; for, under his guidance, the country prospered within and was respected without.
In the year BC 1293 there was an expedition sent against the Land of the Demon commonly believed to be the Tartars. This war lasted three years, and resulted in a temporary lease of new life to the Shang Dynasty. Nobles again flocked into the court of Wu Ding with tribute. Unfortunately Wu Ding's successors were not able to check the rising power of a western state which was reaching its zenith.
4.4. King Zhou and Daji: The Shang Dynasty ended with a tyrant, the twenty-fourth king---King Zhou. He was a talented man, but utterly without principle. In character, he very much resembled Jie, the last ruler of the house of Xia. Like him, King Zhou was aided to a great extent in the practice of vice by a woman. Her name was Daji. When he heard of this beauty, he led an army to attack her father, a noble of Su, and compelled him to surrender her as a concubine to the sovereign.
King Zhou soon became a helpless slave to share her wicked will. She evidently took no fancy to an underground palace. To satisfy her vanity, King Zhou constructed the "Deer Tower," the highest structure known in his day. The work was completed in seven years and cost an incredible amount of money. Unfortunately, this great architectural work perished with King Zhou, who set fire to it and burned himself to death, when he saw no hope for himself.
King Zhou, who was even worse than Jie, permitted Daji to interfere with the management of his government, for she was "the hen that heralds the dawn of the day." To seal the lips of the timid, she caused all those who ventured to remonstrate with the king to be put to death by making them climb up a red-hot copper pillar. Even the uncle of the king lost his life.
Desertion and rebellion were the order of the day. Eight hundred nobles joined the flag of Chou Fa, whose own army numbered only three thousand men. King Zhou was not a man who would give up his kingdom without a struggle. An immense army was raised and the last stand was made at Mu Yie. The royal soldiers refused to fight and the result was the death of King Zhou and the end of the Shang Dynasty.
5. The Zhou Dynasty (BC 1050-221)
The Zhou Dynasty marks the beginning of a new epoch in Chinese history. With it the real authentic history begins. In it are to be found the origins and principles of Chinese civilization. The Zhou Dynasty was to China what Greece was to Europe; for most of the customs, laws, and institutions which we see today have been handed down from this period. Its history resembles the history of Europe during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The rise and development of philosophies during this period have also rendered the name of Zhou particularly memorable. For the sake of convenience, this longest Chinese dynasty may be divided into three periods: the first, Western Zhou, embraces the rise of the dynasty and down to the removal of its capital to the east; the second, the age of Feudalism, or Spring and Autumn Period; and the third, the age of the Seven States, or Warring States Period.
5.2. Western Zhou (BC 1050-770)
5.2.a. Its early history: The founder of the Zhou Dynasty, Wu Wang, the Military King, was of distinguished ancestry, being a descendant of Ji, the Minister of Agriculture under Shun. One of this Ji's descendants introduced the art of agriculture among the savage tribes in the western part of the empire and built a town at Bin. Here his family continued to live in peace for hundreds of years. In the year BC 1326, they, having been harassed by the constant incursions of the barbarians, migrated eastward to Ji, and gave this new settlement the name of Zhou.
Through the labors of a succession of good people, this little town in time became the center of civilization. Its growth was most rapid. By the time of Wen Wang, or Scholar King, father of the founder of the dynasty, it was a city of far greater importance than the capital of the empire, for it was the capital of "two-thirds of the empire." The fruits of his benevolent government were finally reaped by his son, Wu Wang, or Military King.
5.2.b. Wu Wang: Having ascended the throne, made vacant by the death of King Zhou, amid the acclamations of the nobles who had allied themselves with him, Wu Wang set himself to organize a peaceful government.
His first act was to set at liberty the unhappy people who had been imprisoned by King Zhou for no fault of theirs. Among them was one named Qi Zi, who was King Zhou's uncle, and a man of great learning. He explained the rules of government, and then escaped to Korea, where he was elected ruler. He evidently had no desire of becoming an official under the newly established dynasty.
By order of the king, Daji, who had caused so many innocent men and women to be put death, paid the penalty with her life. The immense stores of grain which had been stored by King Zhou and the treasures he had accumulated were distributed to the poor; soldiers were disbanded; horses and oxen given to farmers for agricultural purposes; schools established; and houses built for the old. A new city was laid out at Hao, which was henceforth the capital of the empire. Wu Wang died at the age of ninety-three, alter having ruled as king for seven years.
5.2.c. Duke of Zhou: Of the numerous great people who adorned the court of Wu Wang, the Duke of Zhou, his younger brother, must be given the first place. It was he who completed what had been left undone by Wu Wang, for the latter's death left a boy of thirteen on the throne, and the responsibility of the government rested with the Duke who was the regent.
As a statesman and lawyer, the Duke of Zhou wrote a classic known as "The Rites of Zhou," which is a permanent monument to his greatness; as a general, he crushed a most stubborn rebellion headed by Wu Geng, son of King Zhou, and aided by other uncles of the boy-king, whom Wu Wang had appointed to most responsible positions; and as a philosopher, succeeding ages have pronounced him to be second only to Confucius. The name of this man is closely associated with the early institutions of the Zhou Dynasty.
5.2.d. Divisions of the empire: The feudal system was undoubtedly an outcome of the tribal government of the early ages. It existed during the Xia and Shang Dynasties, but the Duke of Zhou perfected it by the introduction of the five orders of nobility, which are dukes, marquises, earls, viscounts, and barons. A duke or a marquis was entitled to rule over a territory 100 mile square; an earl, 70 mile square; and a viscount or baron, 50 mile square. These were classified as the first, second, and third class states respectively. States, whose area was less than 50 mile square, had no direct representation at the court of the emperor and were obliged to send their tribute through a neighboring first-class state.
There were nine regions in the empire. With the exception of the territory reserved as the domain of the emperor, each region contained 30 first-class, 60 second-class, and 120 third-class states, or a total of 210 feudal states. The domain of the emperor was divided among the executive ministers of his court and included nine first-class, twenty-one second-class, and sixty-three third-class states.
At the beginning of the Zhou Dynasty, the total number of feudal states was 1,773. Subsequent civil wars among these states finally reduced this number to seven. The Zhou Dynasty reaped much benefit from "the wall of feudal states around the House of the Emperor," built by the Duke of Zhou. It was the armies of these states that saved it from the horrors of a barbarian invasion; and, when its power had sunk to the lowest ebb, it was the jealousy among them that prolonged its existence.
5.2.e. Government: Of the political institutions of the two preceding dynasties, we know very little. The highest officials under the emperors of the Zhou Dynasty were the Grand Tutor, the Grand Instructor, and the Grand Guardian, with an assistant under each. Their offices were purely didactic. The administration of the government was entrusted to a cabinet consisting of the heads of the following six departments: the Heavenly Minister or Minister of the Interior, the Earthly Minister or Minister of the Treasury, the Spring Minister or Minister of Rites and Religion, the Summer Minister or Minister of War, the Autumn Minister or Minister of Jurisprudence, the Winter Minister or Minister of Works. Each cabinet minister had a corps of sixty subordinate officers under him. The total number of executive officers, therefore, was 360, corresponding to the number of heavenly bodies known at that time.
Outside of the domain of the emperor, feudal chiefs were appointed. They were of different grades, and the number of states subject to their supervisory power varied from five, for one of the lowest grade, to 210 for one of the highest grade, or Lord of a Region.
5.2.f. Taxation: Soon after the reduction of the waters by Yu the Great, a system of taxation was inaugurated, known as the "Tribute System." The Shang Dynasty introduced another familiar system called "Aid System." Each able-bodied man or a group of families received land from the government and was to pay to it as tax the produce of a part of the land. The system adopted by the Zhou Dynasty was a combination of the two, the "tribute system" for the more crowded cities and the "aid system" for the outlying districts. The Zhou people were also taxed by labor, the length of time during which a man had to work for the government varying according to the condition of the crop of each year.
5.2.g. Military equipment: Under the Zhou Dynasty the burden of military equipment rested entirely on the farmers. Every unit of 512 families was required to furnish four horses, one chariot, three charioteers, seventy-two foot soldiers, and twenty-five other men. The emperor's domain was composed of 64,000 units, hence its military strength was estimated at 10,000 chariots. For this reason, his realm is spoken of as "a state of ten thousand chariots."
5.2.h. Mu Wang: The Zhou Dynasty is famous for several able rulers immediately after its founder. This line was broken when Mu Wang, the fifth emperor, came to the throne. He was more ambitious than wise. In the height of his passion for conquests, he led an immense army against the Jung Tribes in the western part of the country. This expedition must have been a failure, for he brought back only four white wolves and four white deer. Unintentionally, he thus sowed the seed of hatred which culminated in an invasion of China in BC 771.
5.2.i. Xuan Wang: As the son of the fifth emperor, who died in exile due to his vassals' rebellions against his misgoverning, Xuan Wang had evidently learned a good lesson from the misfortunes that had come upon his father. Placing himself under the guidance of experienced ministers, he soon saw the return of better days. The internal conditions improved and his arms were successful everywhere.
Not only did Xuan Wang have good ministers, but he also had a good queen, Jiang Hou, who today ranks among the greatest women of antiquity. It is stated that the emperor was less energetic when he saw that his state was in a better condition. He began to rise late and was indifferent to the affairs of state. No advice from ministers was heeded; but finally Jiang Hou hit upon an expedient which proved successful. One morning she deprived herself of all emblems of royalty, and sent word to Xuan Wang that she was no longer worthy to be his queen, since she had failed to prevent him from falling into the evils which would ultimately bring his government into difficulties.
5.2.j. Yu Wang: Unfortunately, Xuan Wang did not have a good son. He was succeeded by Yu Wang, in whose reign of eleven years we see the records of Jie and King Zhou repeated. Like them, Yu Wang was completely under the influence of a beauty. By a well-planned stroke of policy, this woman had the queen degraded and the crown prince disinherited in favor of herself and her son. This was the infamous Bo Su, whose smile cost Yu Wang his crown and his life.
Tradition says that Bo Su was hard to please, and that the king tried every means in his power to make her smile, but without success. He at length thought of a scheme. He had all the beacons lighted, which, it must be remembered, was to be done only as a signal for the nobles to come to the defense of their overlord. The loyal nobles responded promptly with what forces they were able to collect at short notice. To their dismay they discovered that no danger existed and that the whole thing was but a false cry of "wolf." Yu Wang was indeed successful, for he saw a smile on the face of Bo Su.
The mistake he thus made, however, was a fatal one. Not long afterwards his empire was invaded by the barbarians known as the Jung. As the country was by no means prepared for the attack, the emperor lighted the beacons again, but no one responded. The capital was easily taken, and Yu Wang slain. These barbarians had invaded China at the invitation of the Marquis of Shen, father of the former queen. In the court of this marquis, the disinherited crown prince had sought refuge. Instead of surrendering the unhappy exile, the marquis allied himself with the Jung to make war on Yu Wang.
5.2.k. Removal of the capital: For a time the Jung were permitted to plunder the country, but the allied troops of the more powerful nobles finally drove them outside of China. The vacant throne was then restored by the allies to the disinherited crown prince. The dynastic title of the new king was Ping Wang , or "The Pacifier," but he was not worthy of the name.
No sooner did he come to the throne than he transferred the seat of government to "The Eastern Metropolis," in Luoyi (near Luoyang), a city built by the famous Duke of Zhou, and hitherto used as the place for meeting the nobles, because of its central location. Henceforth the dynasty was known as "The Eastern Zhou."
With this event, which took place in BC 770, a period of weakness came upon the Zhou Dynasty. During the remainder of some 500 years, it existed in name only. The weaker feudal states were an easy prey for the more powerful nobles who only acknowledged allegiance to the emperor so long as it suited them. The China of this period may be described as an empire partitioned amongst the nobles.
5.2.l. The tribes: We have seen that the removal of the capital to the east was due entirely to a dread of the growing power of the tribes in the west. These were not the only barbarians which existed then. Their kindred in the north and in the south also made constant inroads into China. The weakness of the reigning house was most favorable to their growth. As the Zhou Dynasty was not able to defend the country, the task fell to the lot of the nobles. Fortunately for China, the Mongolian Tartars were not strong enough then to harass the northern border, or they would have made short work of a weakened empire.
5.2.m. Aborigines: The rulers of the Zhou Dynasty never troubled themselves much about the aborigines. As long as they remained quiet, they were always permitted to retain their customs and land in the heart of the empire. They were scattered here and there among feudal states. For several centuries, they remained uninfluenced by Chinese civilization. In view of their love of war, they became very valuable tools of the feudal states; but, as the latter grew stronger, they were either conquered or disappeared through assimilation.
5.3. Eastern Zhou: The Age of Feudalism (BC 770-476)
5.3.a. Introduction: The Feudalism in China furnishes a most important study. The best record of this period has been preserved in the Spring and Autumn Classic, dating from BC 722 to BC 481, a work said to have been edited by Confucius. It is largely a record of civil wars among the feudal states, which the emperor was powerless to prevent. Annexations of weaker states by stronger ones were of frequent occurrence. Of 1,773 states created by the founder of this Zhou Dynasty, only one hundred and sixty were left; and of this number only twelve were of importance. The rest merely rallied under the flags of their leaders until they were swallowed up.
5.3.b. Interstate relations: In times of peace an exchange of envoys was not uncommon, though none was ever appointed to reside at the capital of a friendly state. Free transit through a third state and personal immunity were among the privileges enjoyed by a diplomatic agent. An insult to such an agent was sometimes a sufficient cause for declaring war.
A lame envoy was once subjected to ridicule at the court of the state to which he was sent. In the war that ensued the offending state was beaten and the envoy, who was now the commander-in-chief of the invading army, demanded, as a condition of peace, the surrender of the mother of the defeated prince as hostage, since she was thought to have been among the women who laughed at him on his former peaceful mission.
A peace concluded under the walls of the capital of a defeated state was considered an unusual humiliation, while a sheep, presented by a defeated ruler in person and half naked, was a sign of submission.
The desire for leadership and preeminence was the cause of many a bloody war between rival states. Chu was always looking for opportunities of conquest. To defeat Chu, therefore, was the stepping stone to supremacy. In times of need a state was obliged to go to the rescue of a friendly neighbor that looked to it for leadership.
5.3.c. The five supreme powers: It seems there were five states more powerful than the rest. As to which they were historians never agree. The following states are certainly worthy of mention, beside Chu.
.1. Qi: The state of Qi came into prominence through the efforts of Duke Huan. Before his time, Qi was the scene of internal disorder and murder. In consequence of a disputed succession, Duke Huan put his half-brother to death. A devoted friend of the latter was Guan Zhong, who shot an arrow at Duke Huan, but it was arrested by the hook of the Duke's girdle.
Duke Huan, however, was more than ready, when he came to the throne, to forgive this would-be assassin. He make Guan Zhong his prime minister. The finances of Qi were then in a very bad condition, and the army was far from efficient. Guan Zhong soon proved his worth. He established a salt monopoly, encouraged commerce, opened iron mines, and reorganized the existing army. In a few years the internal conditions improved, and Qi was looked to by neighboring states as their leader in time of peace and their protector in time of war.
Duke Huan was now in a position to enter upon a war of conquest. What he needed was a pretext that would receive universal approval. He did not wait long for such a pretext. The emperor was too weak to enforce his authority and was more than glad to befriend any one of his vassals who could do it for him. Duke Huan was the man.
His army was soon seen punishing the northern tribes for their disrespect to the reigning house of the empire. Nobles who refused to acknowledge his supremacy shared the same fate. He reached the climax of his glory when he succeeded in bringing the state of Chu over to his side. He led an expedition consisting of his own army and the picked armies of his allies against Chu, for the alleged reason that the latter state had failed to present to the royal court a certain kind of plant, which grew in that territory. Chu preferred to agree to a condition so easy to fulfill rather than go to war, and so a treaty of peace was signed.
With the death of Guan Zhong the days of conquests and supremacy seemed to have ended in Qi. Two years later, Duke Huan himself died, leaving a numerous progeny. The latter quarreled over the throne, and through their follies, the leadership among the states was forever lost to Qi. The success of Duke Huan had its effect upon the neighboring states. Among the nobles who tried to follow his footsteps, was Duke Xiang of Song, who made a pretty good start, but received a crushing defeat at the hands of Chu.
.2. Jin: This feudal state occupied the western part of the empire. The defeat of Duke Xiang of Song gave Chu a free hand in the political affairs of the empire. She "absorbed all the states along the Han River," and her sway extended over the whole of Huashang Mountains. She was a terror in the domain of the emperor until Jin arose.
Duke Wen of Jin passed his early days in exile, traveling from state to state. When he was in Chu, a feast was given in his honor by the Baron of Chu. "If you ever become the ruler of your own state, what will you do in return for the favors I have shown you?" asked the Baron.
Wen, afterwards Duke of Jin, replied that he really did not know what he could do in that case. "Of servants, mistresses, precious stones, and silks," he added, "your honor has had more than enough; and feathers, leather, and ivory are the produce of your soil; but should it ever become my good luck to meet your honor in the battlefield at the head of an opposing army, I shall order a retreat of ten miles, in consideration of what you have done for me. And should you insist on further advance, I will certainly make a stand."
These remarks of this ambitious young man offended many of the ministers of the baron, who advised him to kill Wen; but the advice was rejected as cowardly. The baron evidently little thought that Wen would ever be able to realize his ambition. But Duke Wen of Jin fulfilled his promise to the letter when he met the army of Chu at Chengpu, BC 632. He crippled the military strength of Chu for nearly half a century. The battle of Chengpu is especially memorable because one of the generals of Jin had the chariot horses covered with tigers' skins.
Duke Wen, being a member of the reigning family of Zhou, stood in the closest relationship to the court at the "Eastern Metropolis" (Luoyi). After his success at Chengpu, he was received in audience by the emperor, who loaded the royal "uncle" with honors and presents. The prestige of Jin was maintained by successors to Duke Wen for nearly two hundred years.
.3. Wu: The next state, which was able to weaken the strength of Chu, was a new rising power in the south called Wu. In the latter part of the sixth century BC, a certain fugitive from justice, Qu Wuchen, made his way from Chu to Wu, where he was the first to teach the people how to use a bow and arrow. He reorganized the army of Wu. What was left undone by him was completed by another military genius who had fled in a similar manner from Chu some seventy years later.
This was the famous Wu Zixu, whose father and elder brother had been wrongfully put to death by Ping Wang of Chu. His life was also in danger, and so he fled to Wu. His marvelous escape has often been acted on the Chinese stage, and his story is perhaps familiar to every Chinese schoolchild. He was just the man Wu needed. In BC 506, he entered the capital of Chu at the head of a triumphant army, and had the remains of Ping Wang dug out and given 300 blows.
.4. Yue: Sun Zi certainly did much for his newly adopted state, which was now the leader in the empire. Her army overran the state of Yue, and made it a vassal. Gou Jian, King of Yue, knew well that he could rule only at the pleasure of Fu Zha, King of Wu. Outwardly he did everything to please Fu Zha, but at the same time went on with the reorganization of his own state. He made Fu Zha a present of Xi Shi, the famous beauty of the time.
This had a most astonishing effect. The girl, who "was washing silk by the side of a brook in the morning and concubine of the king of Wu in the evening," soon became the favorite of Fu Zha. The King of Wu paid no further attention to what was going on in Yue. The year BC 472 saw the downfall of his state and his own death by suicide. Wu was added to the territory of Yue, but the latter was finally conquered by Chu.
5.3.d. Treaty-making: Treaties were always very solemn functions, invariably accompanied by the sacrifice of an animal. A part of the sacrifice, or of its blood, was thrown into a ditch in order that the spirit of the earth may bear witness to the deed; the rest of the blood was rubbed upon the lips of the parties concerned, and also scattered upon the documents by way of imprecation; sometimes, however, the imprecations instead of being uttered, were specially written at the end of the treaty. Just as we say "the ink was scarcely dry before etc., etc.," the ancients used to say "the blood of the victim was scarcely dry before etc., etc."
5.3.e. Warfare: The armies of the various feudal princes consisted principally of charioteers and foot soldiers. We have seen that the strength and wealth of a state were measured by the number of war chariots it was able to place in the field. These were made of leather and wood; and their use, it would seem, dates as far back as BC 1800. When in camp these chariots were often arranged in opposite rows with the ends of their shafts meeting above, so as to form a "shaft gate," over which a flag was kept flying. No mention is made of cavalry during the true feudal time. In fact this arm of military service was only introduced into China by the semi-Tartar states about the year BC 307, after which no more war chariots were used.
Besides the war chariots, more comfortable conveyances drawn by horses or oxen were also in use. An eight-horse carriage or cart was the style used by a king. Confucius, in his famous travels, employed a two-horse carriage which was always driven by one of his disciples.
The offensive weapons of the warriors consisted of knives, swords, halberds, spears, pole-axes, and lances with crescent-shaped blades on the side. These were all made of copper. Bows and arrows, much the same as those of today, were also used. The defensive weapons were shields, cuirasses made of skins of rhinoceroses, and helmets made of skins or copper. The soldiers marched to the sound of a drum and retreated at the sound of a gong. Before setting out on an expedition, it was customary to rub the regimental drum with the blood of a sacrifice, and to show the number of enemies slain, their left ears, instead of their heads, were often cut off by the victors.
5.4. Eastern Zhou: The Age of Seven States (BC 475-221)
5.4.a. End of feudal leadership: In the preceding section we have seen how the Zhou Dynasty, during the sixth and seventh centuries BC, was able to maintain its shadow of power over the feudal states. The emperor always strove to cultivate the good will of the strongest state, because its military strength maintained his authority; the latter was no less happy to be under the protection of the royal scepter, because his name gave it moral support.
While this condition of affairs existed, both the emperor and the leading states reaped immense benefit therefrom. But it could not exist always. The Zhou Dynasty was now on the decline. The royal name had lost all its value; the royal domain had been greatly reduced by occasional grants of land for services rendered by the stronger states. Friendship with Zhou was without profit and so it was no longer sought.
5.4.b. Civil war within each state: Furthermore, the national life had assumed a new phase. It must be borne in mind that, under the feudal system, the land granted by the emperor carried sovereignty with it. Each feudal lord was sovereign over his own domain which was subdivided into estates among his ministers. These ministers were executive officials in time of peace and commanders in time of war. The standing army of a noble was under his immediate control. The growth of estate holders, as was inevitable, always corresponded to that of the state itself. So the strongest states had the most difficult internal problems to face. According to the saying at the time, "the tail often became so large that it could not be wagged at will."
5.4.c. The seven states: As the predominant states exercised the power of the emperor, so the estate holders exercised the power of a feudal lord. Civil warfare on a small scale characterized the internal condition of each state. Powerful estate holders could depose their master whenever they pleased. This condition was especially true in Jin, the most powerful of the feudal states. It had grown so large that its duke was no longer able to maintain order. The three rival estate holders in this state at length came to some kind of agreement, and the partition of Jin took place.
To the three new states, the founders gave their respective surnames of Wei, Zhao, and Han. This partition was fatal to the existence of Zhou. Had the state of Jin remained intact, Qin would never have come into prominence. As it was, division caused weakness, and no one single state was strong enough to check the eastward advance and aggrandizement of Qin.
The three newly founded states and four of the older states, each representing the amalgamation of a number of smaller ones, made up the Seven States, and this period of Chinese history is known as the Age of the Seven States, or Warring States. The four older states were Qin in the west, Chu in the south, Yan in the north, and Qi in the east.
Of the Seven States, or "Masculine Powers," as they were then called, Chu and Qin each possessed a third of the empire, while the remaining third was divided among the other five states.
5.4.d. Qin: Qin was first known in history as a fourth-class state. Out of gratitude to its chief for military aid in connection with the transfer of the capital, Ping Wang of Zhou gave him permission to annex all territory west of Jin, the earliest home of the dynasty. This easily raised Qin to a first-class state, so far as the area was concerned, and brought it to the border of Jin.
Jin was then the leader in the empire, and as its way to the east was blocked, its rulers were obliged to seek expansion in the west. Intermarriages between the ruling houses of these two states were frequent, but their wars were not few. The decline of the military prowess of Jin gave Qin access to the great empire in the east. Once this door was opened, there was nothing to arrest the tide of expansion which, checked in the west, had now begun to flow in the opposite direction.
Duke Shang of Qin was a wonderful man. By introducing administrative reforms, he succeeded in building the foundation of the first centralized empire in China. The immediate cause of the greatness of Qin lay in the following facts:
(1) The state was in a better financial condition due to more than two centuries of peace.
(2) Natural defense of streams and mountains formed a stronghold which required but small garrisons to become well-nigh impregnable, and from this stronghold, her generals could pour immense armies upon the plains on either side of the Yellow River.
(3) Constant collisions with the western barbarians had given her better soldiers who could carry everything before them.
(4) Her rulers had very little regard for the traditions of ages, but insisted on reforms as the needs arose.
(5) Her rulers had been able to employ the best geniuses of the time for the benefit of their country and people. Among the decrees issued by Duke Shang, one is specially worthy of note, he not only granted official honors and lands to his own subjects, but also invited able people from other states to come to the help of his government. In response to this call, many foreigners flocked to his court. It was these "alien ministers" that helped build up a wealthy and powerful nation.
5.4.e. Yan: Yan was the territory given to Duke Zhao by Wu Wang of Zhou. Its earlier history is not known. It was north of Qi. During the period of strife between the leading states, she took no part whatever in national affairs, and it was said of her in BC 539: "She was never a strong power in spite of her numerous horses."
The year BC 284 is a memorable one in her history, because one of her generals invaded Qi and captured more than sixty cities. Her success, however, was only temporary. This able General, Yue Yi by name, was falsely accused of treason and was superseded by a man of inferior ability.
As a consequence, she was deprived of all the fruits of her former victory. She owed her integrity not to her own standing army, but to her secluded position. The three states of Jin stood between her and the powerful Qin. The northern Tartars were not strong enough to harass her. In fact, she had obtained a large tract of land from them.
5.4.f. Perpendicular and horizontal alliances: Qin had begun to cast covetous eyes on the immense territory that separated her from the sea. To check her eastward-growing power, it was necessary for the remaining six states to form a chain of north and south alliances. The party that advocated this policy found in Su Qin, an able leader. They styled themselves "Perpendicular Unionists." Su Qin traveled from one state to another until he was made Prime Minister of all the Six States and formed an alliance against Qin.
At the same time there existed another party who worked in the interest of Qin and who, in their eloquence, persuaded the other states to make peace with Qin. They wanted to form a line of east and west alliances, hence they called themselves "Horizontal Unionists." This party was headed by Zhang Yi, a classmate of Su Qin.
In other words, Su Qin and his school may be called the War party; while Zhang Yi and his followers, the Peace party. These people flocked to the court of every state. When the war party came into power, the armies of the six states were fighting their common foe in the west; but when the peace party directed affairs, their envoys were seen at the capital of Qin, bearing tribute.
Qin had also another plan. By bribery, murder, and intrigues of all sorts, she was able to utilize one or more of the six states as a cat's paw to pull chestnuts out of the fire. In this manner, she exhausted the strength and treasure of her rivals, and gave herself a little rest whilst gathering more strength for the supreme effort.
5.5. The Famous Philosophers
5.5.a. Introduction: The most important event, which has rendered the Zhou Dynasty especially conspicuous in Chinese history, is undoubtedly the birth of Confucius, the greatest of Chinese philosophers. A philosopher may be described as a person who tries by his teaching to lay down general laws or principles. As a rule, philosophy in the earlier times had a background of mystery, and Confucianism is no exception. As Confucius was a disciple of Laozi, the founder of Daoism, some knowledge of the latter system, coupled with that of the religious beliefs and moral standard of the contemporary Chinese teachers, is necessary to a proper understanding of Confucianism.
"In the early days three groups of divinities were recognized---those of the heaven, the earth, and human. Besides these, ancestral worship was largely practiced. Various kinds of sacrifices were offered according to strictly enforced rituals at appointed times. Oracles were consulted before even the smallest undertakings." (Faber's "China in the Light of History.")
The belief in astrology, fortune telling, and dreams was almost universal; but by the time of the Spring and Autumn Classic, considerable intellectual improvements had been made. "The nation that listens to human is bound to rise; that which listens to gods is doomed to ruin." "The will of heaven is far off, but that of human near; how can one claim knowledge of that which is beyond one's reach?"
These quotations suffice to show the intellectual tendency of the time. The thought thus expressed was later greatly magnified by Laozi (or Laotze) in his famous Daode Jing (or Tao Te Ching, or The Way and Power Classic).
5.5.b. Daoism (Taoism): "Dao probably means impersonal Nature which permeates all things, and from which all things are evolved. According to the teaching of Laozi, true peace comes from ceasing to strive and by living in harmony with the leadings of 'Dao.' The cause of disorder in the world is the development of what is artificial and unnatural, and the only remedy is a return to 'Dao.'" (Pott's "A Sketch of Chinese History.")
His philosophy has been thoroughly understood by few, as it is beyond the comprehension of the average Chinese. Tradition makes Laozi a librarian of the royal court of Zhou. After the completion of his philosophical work, he retired to an unknown place, leaving the all-important reform movement to be perfected by Confucius.
5.5.c. Confucius: Confucius was born BC 551 in the feudal state of Lu. At fifteen his mind was set on learning; and at thirty, he stood firm in his convictions. In his twenty-second year, he began his career as a teacher.
In BC 501, Duke Ding of Lu made him minister of justice and acting prime minister. In the latter capacity, he accompanied Duke Ding to an interview that had been arranged with the chief of Qi. He advocated the policy that the only way to maintain peace is to be prepared for war, and at his request the Duke's retinue included two generals. The return of certain tracts of land, which had been occupied by Qi, crowned his diplomatic effort.
Qi became jealous of Lu's prosperity, and corrupted the Duke by a present of beautiful courtesans. Confucius then left Lu to seek employment at the courts of other nobles. He traveled from state to state but to no avail. At times his life was in danger. Seeing no further hope for himself, he returned to Lu and spent his last days in literary work. He died in BC 479. Since his death, the world has come to understand his true worth.
5.5.d. Age of darkness: It must be borne in mind that the states through which Confucius traveled were shrouded in ignorance. The moral standard of the people was low: Between the states there were intrigues of all kinds. Polygamy among the nobles gave rise to endless trouble. Monarchs often lost their lives at the hands of their own children, and murder was frequently resorted to by an ambitious prince to put his brothers or half-brothers out of the way. A famous cook, in order to obtain favor with his sovereign, killed his own son and prepared his flesh as food. It was not uncommon for the ruler of a stronger state to wage war against a weaker one for the purpose of capturing a beautiful queen. If any reform was needed in a world of disorder and crimes of this kind, it certainly was in the matter of morality.
5.5.e. Confucianism: Confucius never sought to explain anything new, but to reinstate the old in a pure form. "He sought to guide his fellows by holding up to them the wisdom and virtue of the ancients. His teaching was purely ethical and practical, confined to the daily life of humans as members of the state and of their family. He spoke little of God, and he avoided talking about the supernatural. For this reason it is often said that he cannot be called a religious teacher, but only a moral philosopher, and that Confucianism is rather a system of morality than religion."
5.5.f. Influence of Confucianism: "Among the virtues demanded by the Confucian ethics, propriety, reverence for tradition, and filial piety are the most important." The last especially is the foundation upon which have stood the social life and security of the Chinese structure. Filial piety not only means dutiful behavior of children towards parents, but it also includes loyalty to the government and respect for authority. Again, "lack of bravery in battle is no true filialty."
"These precepts have molded Chinese society for more than two thousand years. No other reformer has held such absolute sway over a great part of humanity for such a long period." Unfortunately, Confucianism has been corrupted to a great extent by the commentaries and interpretations of Zhu Xi and his school. These commentaries and interpretations are dark clouds in a beautiful summer sky.
5.5.g. Mencius: "Mencius was also born in the feudal state of Lu (BC 372). While Confucius did not claim to be an originator but only a transmitter, Mencius was an independent and original thinker. He expounded the teachings of his Master, and also added his own reflections on the nature of human. He held an extremely optimistic view as to the original goodness of human nature, and believed that it was possible for humans by their own efforts to reach the state of perfection. He is regarded by the Chinese as being second to Confucius." (Pott's "A Sketch of Chinese History.")
5.5.h. Sinzi: Sinzi was also a follower of Confucius, but held a view entirely different from that of Mencius as regards the nature of human. According to him, human nature is bad, and it is only by living in accordance with the requirements of righteousness and politeness that human can become good.
5.5.i. Mozi: This teacher was a native of the feudal state of Song but the dates of his birth and death are not known. He is said to have been one of the disciples of the Great Sage. His teaching is entirely antagonistic to Confucianism. The main point of contention was on the Funeral Rites. Confucianism is silent respecting the immortality of the soul, and considers death as the end of a person, and funeral rites as the last honor one can do to his parents or sovereign. But according to Mozi there is something immortal after death, and funeral rites are a waste of money. Perhaps he was right.
He, however, mentioned no recompense for the good, or punishment for the bad. In other respects his system is a close approximation at Christianity. He taught self-sacrifice for the good of humankind and sanctioned the "destruction of one's self from head to foot for the benefit of the world." His system gained many adherents at one time, but received a fatal blow at the hands of Mencius. His philosophical writings have been preserved to the present day.
5.6. Ancient Society, Laws, and Customs
5.6.a. Divisions: Four classes of people were recognized in the days of the Zhou rulers, viz., scholars, husbandmen, mechanics, and merchants. A son necessarily followed the calling of his father. Only the scholars were eligible to government offices which were more or less hereditary. Thus the office holders and the educated formed the noble class and the rest were commoners. The saying of the time was "no penal code was ever above a noble while no ritual was below a commoner." It appears from the Spring and Autumn Classic that the only punishments which were received by nobles of those days, according to the nature of their crimes, were death, imprisonment, and banishment.
5.6.b. Eunuchs and their origin: The Zhou Dynasty is commonly credited with having introduced the custom of keeping eunuchs. The fact is, eunuchs had existed for centuries before the family became supreme in China.
"This class of men seems to have originated with the law's severity rather than from the callous desire on the part of any reigning house to secure a craven and helpless medium and means for pandering to, and enjoying the pleasures of the harem without fear of sexual intrigue. Criminals whose feet were cut off were usually employed as park-keepers, simply because there could be no inclination on their part to gad about and chase the game. Those who lost their noses were employed as isolated frontier pickets where no children could jeer at them, and where they could better survive their misfortune in quiet resignation. Those branded in the face were made gate-keepers, so that their livelihood was perpetually marked out for them. It is sufficiently obvious why the castrated were specially charged with the duty of serving females in a menial capacity. Eunuchs were so employed because they were already eunuchs by law."
Since the abolition of the law, BC 197, however, men have been purposely made eunuchs in order that their services as menials could be conveniently rendered.
5.6.c. Publication of written laws: While various forms of punishment had been provided for, there had been no written laws published for the information of the public. The "Son of Heaven" (emperor) was the law giver and executive; and this sacred authority he could bestow on any one of his ministers.
The first publication of laws was made in the year BC 536 in the feudal state of Cheng. Zi Zhan, who thought it advisable to cast the laws in metal for the information of his people, was a good friend of Confucius.
In the latter part of the Zhou Dynasty, there had grown up a party who advocated the enforcement of severe laws as the only means of securing peace in an empire. This party is known as "Legalists," among whom Wei Yang was preeminent. He was a native of Wei, but was obliged to enter the service of Qin, and tradition makes him author of many cruel forms of punishment provided for in the penal code of the latter state.
5.6.d. Polygamy: Polygamy has not only existed in China, but has been legalized by Confucianism. During the fifth and sixth centuries BC, it was customary for a feudal chief to marry his daughter to another chief with many of her cousins or other relatives as maids (the number went up as high as nineteen), so that in case she should die one of them would succeed her at the head of the harem.
The practice of making concubines wives was almost universal among the states. For over two thousand years no one seems to have regarded this evil as sin, and much less, as a crime, until one Li Kui, a legalist and statesman of Wei in the time of the Seven States, saw fit to declare polygamy a crime punishable by death. While this has been the basis of later legislation, law had never been stronger than Confucianism. The reason why Confucianism sanctions polygamy lies in a belief that death without an heir is a sin unpardonable.
5.6.e. Divorce: The ancients sanctioned seven reasons why a husband could divorce his wife, including inability to bear a child. How far divorce was actually effected on this ground, we are not informed. It must not be understood that divorce in those days required legal proceedings as it now does. All the husband had to do to get rid of an undesirable wife was to expel her by force. On the other hand, no ground ever existed in law for a wife to break away from a wretch!
5.6.f. Respect for the old: The government of the Zhou Dynasty may be described as follows: a father was supreme in a family, a king in a state, and old age in a village. Every three years the people of each village met, when a banquet was given, presided over by a representative of the Crown and with guests of honor seated according to their ages. This was one of the most solemn occasions and detailed rituals were prescribed and followed.
5.6.g. Religion: Before the introduction of Buddhism into China (65 AD) no religion in the true sense of the word was in existence among the ancients. As already stated, Confucianism is not a religion but a system of morality. "No word for religion was known to the language; the notion of church or temple served by a priestly caste had not entered human's mind." (Parker's "Ancient China Simplified.")
That the ancients had some knowledge of God, history abundantly attests. His worship, however, was one of the prerogatives of the reigning house or family; and, as "Son of Heaven," the king alone could offer sacrifice to the Highest Divinity on behalf of his nation. Lesser ranks worshipped lesser divinities, such as the elements of nature, mountains, and streams. The worship of the common people was confined to their own ancestors. It must be noted also that what the ancients did in the way of worship was nothing more than the performance of prescribed rituals, such as that of sacrifices and prayers.
5.6.h. Burial of companions to the dead: This evil custom was almost universal during the sixth and seventh centuries BC. In the Book of Odes, we read an account of the funeral of Duke Mu of Qin. Before his death, he had decreed that three of the ablest ministers of the time (brothers) should be interred with him. Although the nation did not approve of the choice thus made, yet the decree was faithfully carried out, and the three "good men of Qin" accompanied the remains of Duke Mu to their last resting place.
5.6.i. Education and literature: There was a very good educational system with schools for the nobles as well as for the common people. There was a primary school for every 25 families; a higher school for every 500 families; and a college for every 12,500 families. Children were of school age when they reached their eighth years. The higher branches of learning consisted of (1) rituals, (2) music, (3) archery, (4) horsemanship, (5) literature, and (6) mathematics. In other words, education embraced moral, military, and intellectual training.
"It is the father's fault if at the binding of the hair (eight years of age) children (mostly boys) do not go to the teacher; it is their own fault if after having gone to the teacher they make no progress; it is their friends' fault if they make progress but get no repute for it; it is the executives' fault if they obtain repute but no recommendation to office; it is the prince's fault if they are recommended for office but not appointed."
In the pre-Confucian period, books were comparatively few. The best known are the Book of Record, Book of Odes, Book of Change, Rites of Zhou, and Guanzi (or Kuan Tze) or Political Economy. Books were made of bamboo slips and the characters were painted on them. Interstate correspondence was confined to a small area in the north, but the dialectical barrier was gradually overcome, and by the time of Mencius, even Chu could boast of its literary renown. The State of Qin never produced any famous literary person. In fact, those who did anything for her were all aliens. The period of the Seven States was a golden time in Chinese literature. The influence of the Perpendicular and Horizontal diplomats upon Chinese literature has been permanent and beneficial.
5.6.j. Astronomy and calendar: From the earliest times, the Chinese month has been lunar, that is, the days of the month are so arranged as to begin each new month with a new moon. The ancients had learned to divide the heavenly bodies into constellations and to observe the zodiacal signs.
5.6.k. Science and arts: The science of medicine and surgery were developed to a considerable extent under the Zhous. It was the first dynasty that had official doctors and surgeons. During the feudal period, however, Qin surpassed the rest of China in the number of able physicians it possessed.
During the days of Yao, the ranks of officials were denoted by the objects painted on their official costumes; such as the sun, moon, stars, constellations, dragons, and other animals. Among the Zhou officials, we find people whose function was to paint official garments. The three dynasties of Xia, Shang, and Zhou had all made use of jade or malachite rings, tablets, scepters, and so on as marks of official rank.
Silk was universally known. That the women were mostly engaged in rearing silkworms, the Book of Odes abundantly testifies. Even the queen had to set an example in this industry at appointed times each year if she did not have to do the actual work. No cotton was known, so the poorer classes wore garments of hempen materials. In the cold weather, furs were used. Dyeing too was largely practiced.
The Zhou Dynasty had regularly appointed officials whose business was to teach the people how to take ores out of the mines and to manure their land; but as to how far this useful knowledge had been acquired, we have very little information.
Historians agree that the Shang mechanics were the best. This belief seems to have been based upon a statement of Confucius that he preferred the state carriage of the Shang Dynasty because of its workmanship.
6. The Qin Dynasty (BC 221-206)
6.1.a. General statement: We have seen that the Chinese established themselves first in tribal groups here and there along the course of the Yellow River at a remote period. In course of time the tribal government developed into a feudal system with hundreds of petty states scattered throughout the land which they called the Middle Kingdom. The next movement was towards consolidation which reduced the number of states to seven. The union of the Seven States into one homogeneous whole was inevitable, and finally came in BC 221 as the result of the statesmanship of Prince Zheng of Qin. While his dynasty lasted only fifteen years, still he left many permanent traces of his rule.
6.1.b. His early life: Very little is known of his early life, save that he inherited his father's princely throne at a very tender age. Tradition says that Prince Zheng was not the son of Zhuang Xiang Wang, his reputed father. The latter, as the story goes, had been held as a hostage in the state of Zhao. While there he met a wealthy merchant named Lu Puwei, who, pretending to show his devotion to the young prince, made him take to wife a beautiful woman, already pregnant.
It seems that this story was of later invention, and the work of personal prejudice. At any rate the son to whom Zhuang Xiang Wang's wife gave birth was one of the greatest empire builders of antiquity. During his minority, Lu Puwei was his first prime minister and in that capacity exercised much of the royal power.
6.1.c. Conquest of the six states: The Zhou Dynasty with its eight-hundred years of power was already a thing of the past when Prince Zheng became king of the state of Qin. The last representative of the family of Zhou had already been made away with by one of his predecessors. The work that was left for him to accomplish, therefore, was not the overthrow of the ruling house but the conquest of the six sister states.
The policy pursued by Prince Zheng, or rather by his statesmen and generals, is best summed up in a statement of Xu Dai, a contemporary politician. "This morning," said he, "when crossing the river, I saw a mussel open its shell to sun itself. Immediately an oyster catcher thrust its bill in to eat the mussel; but the latter closed its shell and held the bird fast. 'If it doesn't rain today or tomorrow,' cried the oyster catcher, 'there will be a dead mussel.' 'And if you don't get out of this by today or tomorrow, there will be a dead oyster catcher,' retorted the mussel. Meanwhile up came a fisherman and carried off both of them. I fear that the state of Qin will some day be our fisherman."
In other words, Qin played off one state against another till they were all exhausted and then conquered them one by one. Han, the smallest of the states, was annexed first and the rest were added in the following order: Wei, Chu, Zhao, Yan, and Qi, the last being the easternmost state.
6.2. The Dynasty
6.2.a. Shi Huangdi, or the First Emperor: Prince Zheng made a new title for himself. This title, Huangdi, signifies in his own words, that "the holder is equal to the Three Divine Rulers in virtue and the Five Emperors in achievements." It was retained by his successors down to the last of the Manchus, and has been rendered "emperor" in English. He also discontinued the practice of giving a deceased ruler a posthumous name. He decreed that thenceforth he was to be known as Shi Huangdi, or First Emperor, his immediate successor, Er Shi, or Second Emperor, and so on even down to the ten-thousandth generation.
As regards the name of his dynasty, he let it be known under the old name of his state. "It is interesting to note," says the author of "A Sketch of Chinese History," "that the name China is probably derived from this name, Qin (pronounced Ch'in), for the first westerners who knew anything about the Chinese, spoke of them as the people of the land of Ch'in, which afterwards became the word 'China.'"
6.2.b. End of feudalism: Having built an empire on the ruins of the old feudal system, the question arose as to how this huge territory should be governed. The majority of the statesmen, the slaves of tradition, would have partitioned it out among a number of feudal lords as had been the custom with the Zhous. Such an idea, of course, was offensive to a man who wanted history to begin anew with himself. Divided it must be, but there must be no feudal lords.
Accordingly, Shi Huangdi divided it into thirty-six provinces, each of which was subdivided into districts, governed by agents directly responsible to him. One agent looked after civil matters, another after military affairs, and a third acted as a sort of inspector or intelligence officer of the Throne. Such was the form of government he introduced, and such has been the form of government that has come down to modern times, although in two thousand years, it has undergone many changes in name and detail. All ownership of land and its inhabitants was vested in Shi Huangdi.
6.2.c. The burning of classics: No radical change call take place in China without encountering the opposition of the literati. This was no less the case then than it is now. To abolish feudalism by one stroke was a radical change indeed. Whether the change was for the better or the worse, the people of letters took no time to inquire; whatever was good enough for their fathers was good enough for them and their children. They found numerous authorities in the classics to support their contention, and these they freely quoted to show that Shi Huangdi was wrong. They continued to criticize the government to such an extent that something had to be done to silence the voice of antiquity.
As a consequence, an order came from the Throne, directing every subject in the empire, under pain of branding and banishment, to send all the literature he possessed, except works on agriculture, medicine, and divination, to the nearest official to be destroyed by fire.
As to how far this decree was enforced, it is hard to say. At any rate, it exempted all libraries of the government, or such as were in possession of a class of officials called Learned Men. If any real damage was done to Chinese literature under the decree in question, it is safe to say that it was not of such a nature as later writers would have us believe. Still, this extreme measure failed to secure the desired end, and a number of the people of letters in Xianyang, the capital, was subsequently buried alive.
6.2.d. The Great Wall: The union of China was not effected a moment too soon. In the north, a formidable foe had risen, whom the Chinese called Xiongnu. One Chinese authority seems to think that these tribespeople descended directly from Xiong Yu, son of Jie, the last ruler of the House of Xia. He is said to have taken to wife his father's concubines and to have migrated into the steppes north of the Mongolian Desert. If we may accept this suggestion, the Xiongnu began to terrify the Chinese as early as the middle of the Zhou Dynasty, for in the Book of Odes, we read of many expeditions against a tribe known as Xiong Yu.
The Xiongnu were a nomadic people, moving from place to place with their flocks and herds and always in search of fresh pastures. They had no written language. As soon as their children were able to ride on the back of the sheep, they were taught the use of bows and arrows and how to hunt down small animals. Thus they became skillful archers when they were grown up. They lived chiefly by hunting and used the skins of animals for clothing. Those who were in the prime of life received the best of everything while the old could eat only what was left by them.
It was because of this tribal people that the Great Wall was built by Shi Huangdi. This wall extends about 1,500 miles long. It must not be supposed that this gigantic work was done all at once. As a matter of fact, separate walls had been erected by the states which bordered upon the territory of the Xiongnu. What was actually done by Shi Huangdi was the uniting, strengthening, and improving of the existing structures; and this work was executed under the supervision of General Meng Tian.
It is stated that the immediate cause of the completion of this wall was an oracle which Shi Huangdi consulted. It told him that it was Hu, or Xiongnu, was destined to overthrow the Qin empire. Shi Huangdi died in BC 210 while making a tour through the northern country.
6.2.e. Some characteristics of the age: The art of sculpture had reached a high stage of development. At the same time, the taste of the emperor undoubtedly gave a great impetus to the art. The style of writing known as Lesser Seal, which was designed to take the place of the older and more cumbrous Big Seal, was an invention of his reign. Meng Tian, the general of the Great Wall fame, is generally believed to have been the inventor of the brush used in writing. The paper, so far as the cheaper bamboo is concerned, was not a product of this age (it came into use in the Han Dynasty); but according to the best information, the expensive paper made of silk was in existence when the brush was invented. The invention of convenient writing materials and the simplification of the characters, marked the beginning of literary advancement in China.
Another characteristic of the age was the ascendency that had been attained by the teachings of Xunzi. Almost all the statesmen who adorned the court of Shi Huangdi were people of that school. They believed that the nature of human was bad and that peace and order were the result of fear. Human should be awed into submission, or there would be lawlessness. For the many unjust and cruel laws and acts of tyranny with which the name of Shi Huangdi is closely associated, he in reality was not so much to blame as was the spirit of the age.
The same motive that led to the building of the splendid palaces, and to the erecting of huge and costly stone monuments, was responsible for the meting out of the severest sentences on the least show of offense. It was to impress the people at large with the greatness of the emperor and to make them stand in awe of him. If those measures succeeded in arousing the fear of the people, they also served to alienate their love, for the death of Shi Huangdi was followed almost immediately by the breakup of the unity once the pride of his reign.
Another characteristic of the age was the regard in which a merchant or trader was held. He was no better than a criminal. The first batches of men sent to work on the Great Wall and to serve on the southern frontier consisted of criminals and merchants. At a later date this punishment fell upon those whose fathers were known to have been merchants.
6.2.f. End of Qin Dynasty: Shi Huangdi desired to leave his throne to his first son Fu Su. Unfortunately, this son, who had been banished beyond the Great Wall because he had had the audacity to remonstrate with the all-powerful emperor on the policy of his government, was not present at the time of his father's death.
Worse still, the decree of succession fell into the hands of Li Si , the prime minister, and Zhao Gao, a eunuch, who were devoted friends of the emperor's second son, Hu Hai. The death of Shi Huangdi was kept a secret until the imperial party reached Xianyang. A false decree was then promulgated in the name of the deceased Emperor. In accordance with this Fu Su (together with Meng Tian) was put to death, and Hu Hai ascended the throne under the name of Er Shi, or Second Emperor.
Er Shi proved a worse tyrant than his father, whose vices he inherited but without his greatness. During his short reign, Zhao Gao became the real power after Li Si's execution (BC 208). A story which is familiar to every Chinese schoolchild well shows the position this eunuch occupied in the government. One day, so the story runs, Er Shi showed his courtiers a picture of a deer. "It's a horse," cried Zhao Gao, and none of the crowd had the courage to contradict him, for the eunuch was more powerful than the sovereign.
Rebellion was rife throughout the empire. In less than two years the descendants of the earlier Six States had planted small kingdoms alongside those of other rebel leaders. Er Shi in BC 206 was murdered by Zhao Gao, and Shi Huangdi's grandson was placed on the throne. He gave himself up to Liu Bang---the first general who entered the Land Within the Pass, and afterwards the founder of the Han Dynasty---and brought with him the jade seal of state. He had been on the throne for less than 200 days; but in this brief time, however, he had succeeded in punishing Zhao Gao for the murder of his uncle.
7. The Han Dynasty (BC 206-AD 220)
7.1. The Strife between Chu and Han
The Qin empire, as we have seen, ended in BC 206. From BC 206 to BC 202, there was actually no emperor in China; and the principal event in this period of anarchy was what we call the Strife between Chu and Han. It was a continuous conflict between Xiang Yu and Liu Bang, the former a native of Wu, and the latter of Pei. Both of them had been lieutenants under King Huai of Chu. This King was a descendant of the old ruling house of the state of Chu, and during the troubles attending the breakup of the Qin empire, he setup a kingdom on the ruins.
Through his valor and military renown, Xiang Yu was made Commander-in-Chief not only of the forces of Chu, but also of the contingents from each of the other states. Although he had by far the stronger army, yet the honor of capturing the capital of the Qin empire belonged to Liu Bang. According to the promise of King Huai of Chu, Liu Bang, the first general to enter the capital, should have been made ruler of Guanzhong (Within the Pass), a strategic base; but it was here that the jealousy of Xiang Yu appeared. The latter on his arrival at the capital, took the royal power into his own hands and began to appoint feudal lords without referring them to the King. Instead of the whole of Guanzhong [Land Within the Pass], he gave Liu Bang only a portion of it, called Hanzhong (or Within Han), with the title of King of Han. As to himself, he preferred Guanzhong, and at once assumed the title of King of Western Chu.
Liu Bang did not like the manner in which he was treated, but policy required him to accept less than his due. The circumstances, however, were by no means entirely unfavorable to him. Xiang Yu soon withdrew his army to the east, and his absence from Guanzhong permitted Liu Bang to gather strength.
When Liu Bang felt himself strong enough to appeal to arms, hostilities broke out between the two rivals. For a time victory was on the side of Xiang Yu, who made prisoners of Liu Bang's father and wife. But about BC 202, fortune deserted Xiang Yu, and he at once sued for peace. Meanwhile King Huai of Chu had been murdered, presumably by the agents of Xiang Yu.
Peace was at length concluded, and the Great Canal, by mutual consent, was made the dividing line between the kingdoms of Chu and Han. Assuming that war was at an end, Xiang Yu, in good faith, returned to Liu Bang his father and wife, and began to retire into the south.
In so doing, he had evidently overestimated the character of his rival. As soon as he departed, Liu Bang pursued him with the flower of his army. At Gaixia in Huaixi, the two armies met. The battle that ensued was a severe one and ended in the complete overthrow of Xiang Yu, whose once powerful army was now reduced to a few followers. To avoid falling into the hands of his enemy, he killed himself while crossing the river Wujiang. His death left Liu Bang in undisputed possession of China.
7.2. Western Han Dynasty (BC 206-AD 24)
7.2.a. Accession of Liu Bang: When Liu Bang took the throne, the famous city of Changan in the west became for the first time the capital. The new dynasty he thus founded was the Han Dynasty, in memory of whose greatness, the Chinese still call themselves "the Children of Han."
To his credit, most of the unjust laws of the preceding dynasty were repealed, though Liu Bang did nothing to exalt his own position. "I have never realized the dignity of an emperor, until today," exclaimed he; and this is sufficient to give us an idea of the character of his court. He revived the ancient law authorizing the conferring of a posthumous name on the emperor. As his temple names Gao Zu, or "Supreme Ancestor," we shall thereafter speak of him by this name.
7.2.b. Revival of feudalism: We must not think that Gao Zu ruled as large an empire as that of Shi Huangdi (The First Emperor). The provinces south of the Great River were virtually independent, and his authority was by no means supreme in the north, where the many feudal states gave nothing more than nominal submission at best. These feudal states maybe divided into two classes; those held by members of his house, and those held by others. The latter were the outgrowth of the previous troubles, but the former were a necessity under the system of checks and balances. Thus after a comparatively short time the old feudal system was again an established fact.
The reign of Gao Zu was principally occupied with putting down rebellions headed by Han Xin, Peng Yue, and other feudal lords, most of whom had been his best generals. In several cases his ingratitude was the actual cause of the rebellions. Towards the end of his reign, all the feudal states, with one or two exceptions, were held by members of his own house.
7.2.c. An encounter with the Xiongnu: While China was again splitting herself into petty states, the Xiongnu in the north had arisen to the height of their power. Under the leadership of their chief, named Mouton, they not only conquered many of the neighboring tribes, but were also in a position to measure strength with China---terrible and civilized China, the builder of the Great Wall.
At the head of a great horde, Mouton ravaged the northern part of the empire. The cause of this invasion was that the chief of the feudal state of Han was suspected of disloyalty, and was driven to cast his lot with the northern tribes. Gao Zu now led an army to check the advance of his enemy; but he was outgeneraled and, falling into an ambuscade, lost the greater part of his army. In the hour of misfortune, he sought refuge within the walls of the city of Ping Cheng, which was closely besieged. It was only through judicious bribes that he succeeded in making good his escape under cover of a dense fog.
The experience was enough for him, and he never again took the field himself against the Xiongnu. He gave a beautiful lady of his harem in marriage to Mouton and endeavored to keep friendly with him by occasional presents. His original plan was to give his own daughter to Mouton, but owing to the objection raised by his wife he sent a substitute. A dangerous precedent was thus established.
7.2.d. Gao Zu's immediate successors: Gao Zu died BC 195, and left the throne to his son, Emperor Hui. This feeble monarch died in BC 188, and his mother, Empress Lu, placed an adopted son on the throne. In the following year, she caused the boy to be murdered and began to reign in her own right, thus becoming the first woman ruler in China. Many princes and nobles of her husband's house were mercilessly executed and members of her own family appointed in their stead. The empire was on the point of falling to pieces, when death removed her. The next two successors to the throne improved significantly the conditions of the empire.
7.2.e. Emperor Wu: The next reign of Emperor Wu, comprising the years BC 140 to BC 87, was one of the most important periods in Chinese history. It was an age of great generals, brilliant statesmen, and people of letters.
During this reign, the Han Dynasty reached the zenith of its power, and the empire was greatly enlarged. In the south it included Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi, and northern Vietnam; in the southwest, all the tribes that had held sway in Yunnan and Guizhou now acknowledged the supremacy of the Han emperor; while in the north, the power of the Xiongnu was shattered, and the boundary of the empire included what is now Inner Mongolia, the northwest Xiliang, and the northeast Liaodong, and north Korea.
7.2.f. The usurpation of Wang Mang: The cause of the downfall of the Han Dynasty is to be traced to the ambition of its imperial women. In a country like China, where the separation of the two sexes is a matter of fixed custom, even an empress could not make friends among her husband's ministers. Therefore when power fell into her hands, she knew of no one in whom she could place her confidence except her own people and the eunuchs.
The fact that Emperor Wu caused the mother of his son to be put to death before he appointed him heir, is sufficient to show that the interference of an empress dowager in affairs of state had long been a matter to be dreaded. It was the undue influence of the imperial women that finally brought the house of Han to ruin.
Wang Mang, the notorious usurper, was the nephew of one empress and the father of another. The mother of Emperor Cheng (BC 32-AD 7) was from the Wang family; and when her son came to the throne, her brothers were at once raised to positions of great influence. Every one of them abused the power that fell into his hands. Wang Mang, who was then a mere lad, was the reverse of his uncles in his private character. He did everything he could to conceal his true character and to cultivate the friendship of the literary class. As a result, he was as popular as his uncles were unpopular.
It was not long before he succeeded to a most important position which had been held by one of his uncles. During the short reign of Emperor Ai (BC 6-1) he was obliged to retire; but upon the accession of the next emperor, Emperor Ping (AD 1-5), he returned to office, for this emperor was his son-in-law. His ambition, however, knew no relative; and when his time arrived, he showed his true character by murdering the emperor, forcing him to drink a cup of poison on New Year's day. A lad was then placed on the throne, with Wang Mang acting as an "Assistant Emperor." Two years later the "Assistant Emperor" became a full emperor, and the Han Dynasty was no more.
7.3. Eastern Han Dynasty (AD 25-220)
7.3.a. Wang Mang: If reverence for tradition may justly be regarded in the light of a virtue, as is the case in China, Chinese history gives us no name which stands out more preeminently than that of Wang Mang, the Usurper. Once upon the throne, he busied himself in bringing to life all laws and institutes that experience had long since discarded as out-of-date and impracticable. From morning till late in the evening the "new" Emperor was seen at his desk reading, writing, and legislating. The Institutes of the Zhou Dynasty became his guide. The ancient system of was revived, and many ridiculous currency laws were promulgated. It was quite as much a crime to buy or sell land as to depreciate the currency issued by the government.
At length, excessive taxation, unjust laws, incessant border warfare, severe famines, and the corruption of officials---all combined to arouse the people; and standards revolt were unfurled in more than one place in the empire.
Had Wang Mang taken wise measures, he might have been able to save himself; but he was superstitious and believed that by shedding tears towards the south, the rebellions would die a natural death.. Even at the last moment, when he was dragged out of a tower in his palace, where he had been hiding, he still held in one hand a small knife said to have been handed down from King Shun, and in the other the symbolic instrument of the Daoist magicians.
Wang Mang was beheaded in AD 22; but peace did not come to the nation until a member of the House of Han, Liu Xiu by name, assumed the imperial title two years later. As Liu Xiu fixed his capital at Luoyang, about 150 miles east of Changan, the capital of the Former Han Dynasty, the new dynasty has been known under the name of the Eastern Han.
7.3.b. Guang Wu: The dynastic name of Liu Xiu was Guang Wu. When he ascended the throne, Changan was in the hands of the "Red Eyebrows" rebels, who had placed another member of the Liu house on the throne. Other rebels had also set up emperors, or declared independence in other parts of the empire. It was by great exertion that Guang Wu succeeded in extinguishing every spark of rebellion in China.
As regards the Xiongnu who had again become active, Guang Wu felt that their subjugation was a task he had to leave to his successors. The empire needed rest and the arts of peace were no longer to be neglected. He accordingly devoted the remainder of his reign to works of peace by patronizing learning and the arts. He got rid of his generals without bloodshed by retiring them on a liberal allowance. This act at least entitles him to a higher place in history than Gao Su, the Founder of the Former Han.
In his work of reorganizing the Latter Han, however, Guang Wu greatly enlarged the field of employment for eunuchs and thus sowed the seed of trouble, which was soon destined to bring ruin to the house that he had just restored. After reigning thirty-three years, Guang Wu died in AD 57, at the age of six-three, and left his empire to his son, Emperor Ming (AD 58-75).
7.3.c. Introduction of Buddhism into China: The most important event of the reign of Emperor Ming was undoubtedly the official introduction of Buddhism into China. We say official introduction because its unofficial introduction dates as far back as the reign of the Han Emperor Wu, or soon thereafter. It is safe to say that soon after the opening up of communications with the west, there began to be an influx of Buddhist missionaries into lands then subject to the sway of the Xiongnu.
There is a legend that Emperor Ming had a dream in which he saw a giant, and that when he told his ministers what he had seen, one of them immediately informed him that it was the Sage of the West, called Buddha. This shows that Buddhism was not unknown at his court. The envoys that Emperor Ming sent to inquire into the faith returned in AD 65 with two Indian priests and a number of their classics. These priests were housed in the White Pony Temple, the first Buddhist temple erected with imperial sanction in China, and named after the pony that brought back the Sutra, and here they continued to reside and translate the Buddhist literature until they died.
7.3.d. Buddhism: Buddhism, so far as its Hindu origin is concerned, was an offspring of Brahmanism, the earlier faith of the Hindus. This earlier faith was a belief in a single god, Brahma as he was called, who was the cause and mover of all things. The soul, too, comes from Brahma and passes through all forms of animal life, until finally, having freed itself from all imperfection, it goes back to him. The great aim of existence was to reach this final state and mingle with Brahma. Such was the substance of Brahmanism.
In course of time the old faith reached such a stage of decay that reformers were required to remind the believers of its essential truths. "Of these reformers the greatest was Prince Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha, or the 'Enlightenment,' whose reforms were of such a radical nature as virtually to found a new religion. Yet he did not quarrel with the old, but merely interpreted it anew, and gave it a more practical character.
"Buddha was born about the middle of the sixth century BC. He was a member of a royal house, but left his home, his wife, and a newly born child to find religious peace and the way to salvation. He sought truth from the Brahmans in vain, and spent seven years in religious meditation. Finally he learned the truth he had been seeking. It was summed up in the two ideas of self-culture and universal love.
"About BC 522 he proclaimed his creed at Benares. In the details of worship, he left the ancient Brahmanism unchanged; but he taught that every act in this life bears its fruit in the next. Every soul passes through successive lives, or reincarnations, and its condition during one life is the result of what it has done in a previous state. The aim of life is the attainment of Nirvana---a sinless state of existence, which requires constant self-culture. Four truths were especially taught: first, that all life is suffering; second, that this suffering is caused by the desire to live; third, that the suffering ceases with the cessation of this desire; fourth, that this salvation can be found by following the path of duty. A very high morality was preached, including the duties of chastity, patience, mercy, fortitude, and kindness to all entities." (Colby's "Outlines of General History.")
After his death Buddha was worshipped as a divine being. His disciples carried the faith throughout India, and thence it spread to the northwest and to the southeast of that country. About BC 377, there was a division among the Buddhists; the northern branch had their center in Kashmir, while the southern section made Ceylon their headquarters. It was the northern creed that was introduced by Emperor Ming into China.
7.3.e. First contamination of Confucianism: In this connection, it is necessary to say something as to the change Confucianism had undergone since the days of Shi Huangdi [The First Emperor]. In the history of Confucianism, or Chinese literary classics (we can hardly separate the one from the other), the two Han Dynasties form but a single period. Numerous commentaries of the Confucian Classics were issued during this period, but the commentators were more or less under the influence of the Daoist magicians. Their tone of speculation was entirely Daoist. Thus Daoist elements, foreign to Confucianism, became mingled with the teaching of the Great Sage. The Classics which contain their commentaries were largely written from memory by the learned scholars of the Former Han. They are known as "Modern Literature."
About the time of Wang Mang, however, some books, said to have been exhumed, were presented to the government. They contained a text slightly different from that of the "Modern Literature," and were called "Ancient Literature." Their authenticity, however, is a disputed point even at the present day. After the appearance of the "Ancient Literature," a movement was on foot to separate Daoism from Confucianism, with the result that by the time of Emperor Huan the former became an independent creed.
7.3.f. Period of eunuch ascendency: This period commenced in the reign of Emperor He, who came to the throne at the age of ten. During his mother's regency, his uncle, Dou Xian, was the real power. Being jealous of him, the first official act of the emperor on assuming the government himself was to cause his death. This was no easy task, for the court was made up of Dou Xian's own creatures. Under these circumstances, Emperor He looked to his chief eunuch, Chen Chong by name, for help.
While the emperor succeeded in getting rid of his uncle, he did not improve matters. During the remainder of his reign, he never freed himself from the clutches of the eunuch. His infant son outlived him but a few months, and during this time and the minority of Emperor An, the next monarch, Empress Deng was regent. She would see no minister of state, but suffered her eunuchs to be the sole medium of communication. It was not long before their influence was turned into real power. They had a voice in every question and had an important part to play in every intrigue.
The destruction of Liang Ji, brother of the Empress Liang, and murder of Emperor Shi gave the eunuchs undisputed control of the government. Five of them were ennobled, a thing hitherto unknown in Chinese history, and no office was now too high for a eunuch. Those in power could exalt their friends and slay their enemies at pleasure. In the empire, the emperor was the state, but he was a mere tool of the eunuchs in the successive reigns.
7.3.g. Decline of the Eastern Han: The Eastern Han Dynasty entered upon a period of decline for the reason stated in the last section. When there was a woman on the throne, the usurpation of power by eunuchs and her own relatives was inevitable. This was no less true of the Latter Han than of the Former Han, though there is this much difference. During the former dynasty, the two parties always worked hand in hand; during the latter dynasty, they were constantly engaged in bringing ruin to one another. In the main, the eunuchs were masters of the situation, and their extermination was followed by the downfall of the dynasty only a few years later. But in this downfall arose the panoramic, dramatic period: THE THREE KINGDOMS.
8. Web Ressources - History of China
Side Notes of Web Resources
It is very lucky that we found an excellent textbook of China History on the web. Here are the links to the chapters.
- Main site, where you can also find the Histories of Japan
- Off to a Good Start - the Study of History
- Classical China - from Earliest to Han Dynasty
- Early Confucianism - Confucius, Mencius, and Xunzi
- Early Daoism
- The World of Thought in the Han Dynasty and Later
- Later Daoism
- The Middle Dynasties - Sui, Tang, Song, Yuan
- Later Confucianism
- Late Imperial China - Ming, Qing
- Women and Men in Society
- Myth, History, Cultural Values, Social Tensions
Threekingdom.com Resources of the History of China
- 1. Origin of the People
- 2. Mythological Era (BC 5000-2200)
- 2.1. Age of the Three Divine Rulers
- 2.2. The Yellow Sovereign
- 2.3. Yao and Shun (BC 2400-2200)
- 2.3.1. Yao
- 2.3.2. Shun
- 3. The Xia Dynasty (BC 2200-1700)
- 3.1. Yu the Great
- 3.2. Jie and Mei Xi
- 4. The Shang Dynasty (BC 1700-1050)
- 4.1. Tang the Founder
- 4.2. Tai Jia
- 4.3. Wu Ding
- 4.4. King Zhou and Daji
- 5. The Zhou Dynasty (BC 1050-221)
- 5.1. Introduction
- 5.2. Western Zhou (BC 1050-770)
- 5.2.a. Its early history
- 5.2.b. Wu Wang
- 5.2.c. Duke of Zhou
- 5.2.d. Divisions of the empire
- 5.2.e. Government
- 5.2.f. Taxation
- 5.2.g. Military equipment
- 5.2.h. Mu Wang
- 5.2.i. Xuan Wang
- 5.2.j. Yu Wang
- 5.2.k. Removal of the capital
- 5.2.l. The tribes
- 5.2.m. Aborigines
- 5.3. Eastern Zhou: The Age of Feudalism (BC 770-476)
- 5.3.a. Introduction
- 5.3.b. Interstate relations
- 5.3.c. The five supreme powers
- 5.3.c.1. Qi
- 5.3.c.2. Jin
- 5.3.c.3. Wu
- 5.3.c.4. Yue
- 5.3.d. Treaty-making
- 5.3.e. Warfare
- 5.4. Eastern Zhou: The Age of Seven States (BC 475-221)
- 5.4.a. End of feudal leadership
- 5.4.b. Civil war within each state
- 5.4.c. The seven states
- 5.4.d. Qin
- 5.4.e. Yan
- 5.4.f. Perpendicular and horizontal alliances
- 5.5. The Famous Philosophers
- 5.5.a. Introduction
- 5.5.b. Daoism (Taoism)
- 5.5.c. Confucius
- 5.5.d. Age of darkness
- 5.5.e. Confucianism
- 5.5.f. Influence of Confuciansim
- 5.5.g. Mencius
- 5.5.h. Sinzi
- 5.5.i. Mozi
- 5.6. Ancient Society, Laws, and Customs
- 5.6.a. Divisions
- 5.6.b. Eunuchs and their origin
- 5.6.c. Publication of written laws
- 5.6.d. Polygamy
- 5.6.e. Divorce
- 5.6.f. Respect for the old
- 5.6.g. Religion
- 5.6.h. Burial of companions to the dead
- 5.6.i. Education of literature
- 5.6.j. Astronomy and calendar
- 5.6.k. Science and arts
- 6. The Qin Dynasty (BC 221-206)
- 6.1. Background
- 6.1.a. General statement
- 6.1.b. His early life
- 6.1.c. Conquest of the six states
- 6.2. The Dynasty
- 6.2.a. Shi Huangdi, or the First Emperor
- 6.2.b. End of feudalism
- 6.2.c. The burning of classics
- 6.2.d. The Great Wall
- 6.2.e. Some characteristics of the age
- 6.2.f. End of Qin Dynasty
- 7. The Han Dynasty (BC 206-AD 220)
- 7.1. The Strife between Chu and Han
- 7.2. Western Han Dynasty (BC 206-AD 24)
- 7.2.a. Accession of Liu Bang
- 7.2.b. Revival of feudalism
- 7.2.c. An encounter with the Xiongnu
- 7.2.d. Gao Zu's immediate successors
- 7.2.e. Emperor Wu
- 7.2.f. The usurpation of Wang Mang
- 7.3. Eastern Han Dynasty (AD 25-220)
- 7.3.a. Wang Mang
- 7.3.b. Guang Wu
- 7.3.c. Introduction of Buddhism into China
- 7.3.d. Buddhism
- 7.3.e. First contamination of Confucianism
- 7.3.f. Period of eunuch ascendency
- 7.3.g. Decline of the Eastern Han
- 8. The Three Kingdoms (AD 220-280)