Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

A History of China by Wolfram Eberhard

Part 2 out of 9

Adobe PDF icon
Download A History of China pdf
File size: 1.0 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

in his social environment, to Nature, and of so maintaining his activity
within the bounds of the community. Lao Tz[)u] pursues another path, the
path for those who feel disappointed with life in the community. A
Taoist, as a follower of Lao Tz[)u] is called, withdraws from all social
life, and carries out none of the rites and ceremonies which a man of
the upper class should observe throughout the day. He lives in
self-imposed seclusion, in an elaborate primitivity which is often
described in moving terms that are almost convincing of actual
"primitivity". Far from the city, surrounded by Nature, the Taoist lives
his own life, together with a few friends and his servants, entirely
according to his nature. His own nature, like everything else,
represents for him a part of the Tao, and the task of the individual
consists in the most complete adherence to the Tao that is conceivable,
as far as possible performing no act that runs counter to the Tao. This
is the main element of Lao Tz[)u]'s doctrine, the doctrine of _wu-wei_,
"passive achievement".

Lao Tz[)u] seems to have thought that this doctrine could be applied to
the life of the state. He assumed that an ideal life in society was
possible if everyone followed his own nature entirely and no artificial
restrictions were imposed. Thus he writes: "The more the people are
forbidden to do this and that, the poorer will they be. The more sharp
weapons the people possess, the more will darkness and bewilderment
spread through the land. The more craft and cunning men have, the more
useless and pernicious contraptions will they invent. The more laws and
edicts are imposed, the more thieves and bandits there will be. 'If I
work through Non-action,' says the Sage, 'the people will transform
themselves.'"[1] Thus according to Lao Tz[)u], who takes the existence
of a monarchy for granted, the ruler must treat his subjects as follows:
"By emptying their hearts of desire and their minds of envy, and by
filling their stomachs with what they need; by reducing their ambitions
and by strengthening their bones and sinews; by striving to keep them
without the knowledge of what is evil and without cravings. Thus are the
crafty ones given no scope for tempting interference. For it is by
Non-action that the Sage governs, and nothing is really left

[Footnote 1: _The Way of Acceptance_: a new version of Lao Tz[)u]'s _Tao
Te Ching_, by Hermon Ould (Dakers, 1946), Ch. 57.]

[Footnote 2: _The Way of Acceptance_, Ch. 3.]

Lao Tz[)u] did not live to learn that such rule of good government would
be followed by only one sort of rulers--dictators; and as a matter of
fact the "Legalist theory" which provided the philosophic basis for
dictatorship in the third century B.C. was attributable to Lao Tz[)u].
He was not thinking, however, of dictatorship; he was an individualistic
anarchist, believing that if there were no active government all men
would be happy. Then everyone could attain unity with Nature for
himself. Thus we find in Lao Tz[)u], and later in all other Taoists, a
scornful repudiation of all social and official obligations. An answer
that became famous was given by the Taoist Chuang Tz[)u] (see below)
when it was proposed to confer high office in the state on him (the
story may or may not be true, but it is typical of Taoist thought): "I
have heard," he replied, "that in Ch'u there is a tortoise sacred to the
gods. It has now been dead for 3,000 years, and the king keeps it in a
shrine with silken cloths, and gives it shelter in the halls of a
temple. Which do you think that tortoise would prefer--to be dead and
have its vestigial bones so honoured, or to be still alive and dragging
its tail after it in the mud?" the officials replied: "No doubt it would
prefer to be alive and dragging its tail after it in the mud." Then
spoke Chuang Tz[)u]: "Begone! I, too, would rather drag my tail after me
in the mud!" (Chuang Tz[)u] 17, 10.)

The true Taoist withdraws also from his family. Typical of this is
another story, surely apocryphal, from Chuang Tz[)u] (Ch. 3, 3). At the
death of Lao Tz[)u] a disciple went to the family and expressed his
sympathy quite briefly and formally. The other disciples were
astonished, and asked his reason. He said: "Yes, at first I thought that
he was our man, but he is not. When I went to grieve, the old men were
bewailing him as though they were bewailing a son, and the young wept as
though they were mourning a mother. To bind them so closely to himself,
he must have spoken words which he should not have spoken, and wept
tears which he should not have wept. That, however, is a falling away
from the heavenly nature."

Lao Tz[)u]'s teaching, like that of Confucius, cannot be described as
religion; like Confucius's, it is a sort of social philosophy, but of
irrationalistic character. Thus it was quite possible, and later it
became the rule, for one and the same person to be both Confucian and
Taoist. As an official and as the head of his family, a man would think
and act as a Confucian; as a private individual, when he had retired far
from the city to live in his country mansion (often modestly described
as a cave or a thatched hut), or when he had been dismissed from his
post or suffered some other trouble, he would feel and think as a
Taoist. In order to live as a Taoist it was necessary, of course, to
possess such an estate, to which a man could retire with his servants,
and where he could live without himself doing manual work. This
difference between the Confucian and the Taoist found a place in the
works of many Chinese poets. I take the following quotation from an
essay by the statesman and poet Ts'ao Chih, of the end of the second
century A.D.:

"Master Mysticus lived in deep seclusion on a mountain in the
wilderness; he had withdrawn as in flight from the world, desiring to
purify his spirit and give rest to his heart. He despised official
activity, and no longer maintained any relations with the world; he
sought quiet and freedom from care, in order in this way to attain
everlasting life. He did nothing but send his thoughts wandering between
sky and clouds, and consequently there was nothing worldly that could
attract and tempt him.

[Illustration: 1 Painted pottery from Kansu: Neolithic. _In the
collection of the Museum fuer Voelkerkunde, Berlin_.]

[Illustration: 2 Ancient bronze tripod found at Anyang. _From G. Ecke:
Fruehe chinesische Bronzen aus der Sammlung Oskar Trautmann, Peking_
1939, _plate_ 3.]

"When Mr. Rationalist heard of this man, he desired to visit him, in
order to persuade him to alter his views. He harnessed four horses, who
could quickly traverse the plain, and entered his light fast carriage.
He drove through the plain, leaving behind him the ruins of abandoned
settlements; he entered the boundless wilderness, and finally reached
the dwelling of Master Mysticus. Here there was a waterfall on one side,
and on the other were high crags; at the back a stream flowed deep down
in its bed, and in front was an odorous wood. The master wore a white
doeskin cap and a striped fox-pelt. He came forward from a cave buried
in the mountain, leaned against the tall crag, and enjoyed the prospect
of wild nature. His ideas floated on the breezes, and he looked as if
the wide spaces of the heavens and the countries of the earth were too
narrow for him; as if he was going to fly but had not yet left the
ground; as if he had already spread his wings but wanted to wait a
moment. Mr. Rationalist climbed up with the aid of vine shoots, reached
the top of the crag, and stepped up to him, saying very respectfully:

"'I have heard that a man of nobility does not flee from society, but
seeks to gain fame; a man of wisdom does not swim against the current,
but seeks to earn repute. You, however, despise the achievements of
civilization and culture; you have no regard for the splendour of
philanthropy and justice; you squander your powers here in the
wilderness and neglect ordered relations between man....'"

Frequently Master Mysticus and Mr. Rationalist were united in a single
person. Thus, Shih Ch'ung wrote in an essay on himself:

"In my youth I had great ambition and wanted to stand out above the
multitude. Thus it happened that at a little over twenty years of age I
was already a court official; I remained in the service for twenty-five
years. When I was fifty I had to give up my post because of an
unfortunate occurrence.... The older I became, the more I appreciated
the freedom I had acquired; and as I loved forest and plain, I retired
to my villa. When I built this villa, a long embankment formed the
boundary behind it; in front the prospect extended over a clear canal;
all around grew countless cypresses, and flowing water meandered round
the house. There were pools there, and outlook towers; I bred birds and
fishes. In my harem there were always good musicians who played dance
tunes. When I went out I enjoyed nature or hunted birds and fished. When
I came home, I enjoyed playing the lute or reading; I also liked to
concoct an elixir of life and to take breathing exercises,[3] because I
did not want to die, but wanted one day to lift myself to the skies,
like an immortal genius. Suddenly I was drawn back into the official
career, and became once more one of the dignitaries of the Emperor."

[Footnote 3: Both Taoist practices.]

Thus Lao Tz[)u]'s individualist and anarchist doctrine was not suited to
form the basis of a general Chinese social order, and its employment in
support of dictatorship was certainly not in the spirit of Lao Tz[)u].
Throughout history, however, Taoism remained the philosophic attitude of
individuals of the highest circle of society; its real doctrine never
became popularly accepted; for the strong feeling for nature that
distinguishes the Chinese, and their reluctance to interfere in the
sanctified order of nature by technical and other deliberate acts, was
not actually a result of Lao Tz[)u]'s teaching, but one of the
fundamentals from which his ideas started.

If the date assigned to Lao Tz[)u] by present-day research (the fourth
instead of the sixth century B.C.) is correct, he was more or less
contemporary with Chuang Tz[)u], who was probably the most gifted poet
among the Chinese philosophers and Taoists. A thin thread extends from
them as far as the fourth century A.D.: Huai-nan Tz[)u], Chung-ch'ang
T'ung, Yuean Chi (210-263), Liu Ling (221-300), and T'ao Ch'ien
(365-427), are some of the most eminent names of Taoist philosophers.
After that the stream of original thought dried up, and we rarely find a
new idea among the late Taoists. These gentlemen living on their estates
had acquired a new means of expressing their inmost feelings: they wrote
poetry and, above all, painted. Their poems and paintings contain in a
different outward form what Lao Tz[)u] had tried to express with the
inadequate means of the language of his day. Thus Lao Tz[)u]'s teaching
has had the strongest influence to this day in this field, and has
inspired creative work which is among the finest achievements of

Chapter Four


1 _Social and military changes_

The period following that of the Chou dictatorships is known as that of
the Contending States. Out of over a thousand states, fourteen remained,
of which, in the period that now followed, one after another
disappeared, until only one remained. This period is the fullest, or one
of the fullest, of strife in all Chinese history. The various feudal
states had lost all sense of allegiance to the ruler, and acted in
entire independence. It is a pure fiction to speak of a Chinese State in
this period; the emperor had no more power than the ruler of the Holy
Roman Empire in the late medieval period of Europe, and the so-called
"feudal states" of China can be directly compared with the developing
national states of Europe. A comparison of this period with late
medieval Europe is, indeed, of highest interest. If we adopt a political
system of periodization, we might say that around 500 B.C. the unified
feudal state of the first period of Antiquity came to an end and the
second, a period of the national states began, although formally, the
feudal system continued and the national states still retained many
feudal traits.

As none of these states was strong enough to control and subjugate the
rest, alliances were formed. The most favoured union was the north-south
axis; it struggled against an east-west league. The alliances were not
stable but broke up again and again through bribery or intrigue, which
produced new combinations. We must confine ourselves to mentioning the
most important of the events that took place behind this military

Through the continual struggles more and more feudal lords lost their
lands; and not only they, but the families of the nobles dependent on
them, who had received so-called sub-fiefs. Some of the landless nobles
perished; some offered their services to the remaining feudal lords as
soldiers or advisers. Thus in this period we meet with a large number of
migratory politicians who became competitors of the wandering scholars.
Both these groups recommended to their lord ways and means of gaining
victory over the other feudal lords, so as to become sole ruler. In
order to carry out their plans the advisers claimed the rank of a
Minister or Chancellor.

Realistic though these advisers and their lords were in their thinking,
they did not dare to trample openly on the old tradition. The emperor
might in practice be a completely powerless figurehead, but he belonged
nevertheless, according to tradition, to a family of divine origin,
which had obtained its office not merely by the exercise of force but
through a "divine mandate". Accordingly, if one of the feudal lords
thought of putting forward a claim to the imperial throne, he felt
compelled to demonstrate that his family was just as much of divine
origin as the emperor's, and perhaps of remoter origin. In this matter
the travelling "scholars" rendered valuable service as manufacturers of
genealogical trees. Each of the old noble families already had its
family tree, as an indispensable requisite for the sacrifices to
ancestors. But in some cases this tree began as a branch of that of the
imperial family: this was the case of the feudal lords who were of
imperial descent and whose ancestors had been granted fiefs after the
conquest of the country. Others, however, had for their first ancestor a
local deity long worshipped in the family's home country, such as the
ancient agrarian god Huang Ti, or the bovine god Shen Nung. Here the
"scholars" stepped in, turning the local deities into human beings and
"emperors". This suddenly gave the noble family concerned an imperial
origin. Finally, order was brought into this collection of ancient
emperors. They were arranged and connected with each other in
"dynasties" or in some other "historical" form. Thus at a stroke Huang
Ti, who about 450 B.C. had been a local god in the region of southern
Shansi, became the forefather of almost all the noble families,
including that of the imperial house of the Chou. Needless to say, there
would be discrepancies between the family trees constructed by the
various scholars for their lords, and later, when this problem had lost
its political importance, the commentators laboured for centuries on the
elaboration of an impeccable system of "ancient emperors"--and to this
day there are sinologists who continue to present these humanized gods
as historical personalities.

In the earlier wars fought between the nobles they were themselves the
actual combatants, accompanied only by their retinue. As the struggles
for power grew in severity, each noble hired such mercenaries as he
could, for instance the landless nobles just mentioned. Very soon it
became the custom to arm peasants and send them to the wars. This
substantially increased the armies. The numbers of soldiers who were
killed in particular battles may have been greatly exaggerated (in a
single battle in 260 B.C., for instance, the number who lost their lives
was put at 450,000, a quite impossible figure); but there must have been
armies of several thousand men, perhaps as many as 10,000. The
population had grown considerably by that time.

The armies of the earlier period consisted mainly of the nobles in their
war chariots; each chariot surrounded by the retinue of the nobleman.
Now came large troops of commoners as infantry as well, drawn from the
peasant population. To these, cavalry were first added in the fifth
century B.C., by the northern state of Chao (in the present Shansi),
following the example of its Turkish and Mongol neighbours. The general
theory among ethnologists is that the horse was first harnessed to a
chariot, and that riding came much later; but it is my opinion that
riders were known earlier, but could not be efficiently employed in war
because the practice had not begun of fighting in disciplined troops of
horsemen, and the art had not been learnt of shooting accurately with
the bow from the back of a galloping horse, especially shooting to the
rear. In any case, its cavalry gave the feudal state of Chao a military
advantage for a short time. Soon the other northern states copied it one
after another--especially Ch'in, in north-west China. The introduction
of cavalry brought a change in clothing all over China, for the former
long skirt-like garb could not be worn on horseback. Trousers and the
riding-cap were introduced from the north.

The new technique of war made it important for every state to possess as
many soldiers as possible, and where it could to reduce the enemy's
numbers. One result of this was that wars became much more sanguinary;
another was that men in other countries were induced to immigrate and
settle as peasants, so that the taxes they paid should provide the means
for further recruitment of soldiers. In the state of Ch'in, especially,
the practice soon started of using the whole of the peasantry
simultaneously as a rough soldiery. Hence that state was particularly
anxious to attract peasants in large numbers.

2 _Economic changes_

In the course of the wars much land of former noblemen had become free.
Often the former serfs had then silently become landowners. Others had
started to cultivate empty land in the area inhabited by the indigenous
population and regarded this land, which they themselves had made
fertile, as their private family property. There was, in spite of the
growth of the population, still much cultivable land available.
Victorious feudal lords induced farmers to come to their territory and
to cultivate the wasteland. This is a period of great migrations,
internal and external. It seems that from this period on not only
merchants but also farmers began to migrate southward into the area of
the present provinces of Kwangtung and Kwangsi and as far as Tonking.

As long as the idea that all land belonged to the great clans of the
Chou prevailed, sale of land was inconceivable; but when individual
family heads acquired land or cultivated new land, they regarded it as
their natural right to dispose of the land as they wished. From now on
until the end of the medieval period, the family head as representative
of the family could sell or buy land. However, the land belonged to the
family and not to him as a person. This development was favoured by the
spread of money. In time land in general became an asset with a market
value and could be bought and sold.

Another important change can be seen from this time on. Under the feudal
system of the Chou strict primogeniture among the nobility existed: the
fief went to the oldest son by the main wife. The younger sons were
given independent pieces of land with its inhabitants as new, secondary
fiefs. With the increase in population there was no more such land that
could be set up as a new fief. From now on, primogeniture was retained
in the field of ritual and religion down to the present time: only the
oldest son of the main wife represents the family in the ancestor
worship ceremonies; only the oldest son of the emperor could become his
successor. But the landed property from now on was equally divided among
all sons. Occasionally the oldest son was given some extra land to
enable him to pay the expenses for the family ancestral worship. Mobile
property, on the other side, was not so strictly regulated and often the
oldest son was given preferential treatment in the inheritance.

The technique of cultivation underwent some significant changes. The
animal-drawn plough seems to have been invented during this period, and
from now on, some metal agricultural implements like iron sickles and
iron plough-shares became more common. A fallow system was introduced so
that cultivation became more intensive. Manuring of fields was already
known in Shang time. It seems that the consumption of meat decreased
from this period on: less mutton and beef were eaten. Pig and dog
became the main sources of meat, and higher consumption of beans made
up for the loss of proteins. All this indicates a strong population
increase. We have no statistics for this period, but by 400 B.C. it is
conceivable that the population under the control of the various
individual states comprised something around twenty-five millions. The
eastern plains emerge more and more as centres of production.

The increased use of metal and the invention of coins greatly stimulated
trade. Iron which now became quite common, was produced mainly in
Shansi, other metals in South China. But what were the traders to do
with their profits? Even later in China, and almost down to recent
times, it was never possible to hoard large quantities of money.
Normally the money was of copper, and a considerable capital in the form
of copper coin took up a good deal of room and was not easy to conceal.
If anyone had much money, everyone in his village knew it. No one dared
to hoard to any extent for fear of attracting bandits and creating
lasting insecurity. On the other hand the merchants wanted to attain the
standard of living which the nobles, the landowners, used to have. Thus
they began to invest their money in land. This was all the easier for
them since it often happened that one of the lesser nobles or a peasant
fell deeply into debt to a merchant and found himself compelled to give
up his land in payment of the debt.

Soon the merchants took over another function. So long as there had been
many small feudal states, and the feudal lords had created lesser lords
with small fiefs, it had been a simple matter for the taxes to be
collected, in the form of grain, from the peasants through the agents of
the lesser lords. Now that there were only a few great states in
existence, the old system was no longer effectual. This gave the
merchants their opportunity. The rulers of the various states entrusted
the merchants with the collection of taxes, and this had great
advantages for the ruler: he could obtain part of the taxes at once, as
the merchant usually had grain in stock, or was himself a landowner and
could make advances at any time. Through having to pay the taxes to the
merchant, the village population became dependent on him. Thus the
merchants developed into the first administrative officials in the

In connection with the growth of business, the cities kept on growing.
It is estimated that at the beginning of the third century, the city of
Lin-chin, near the present Chi-nan in Shantung, had a population of
210,000 persons. Each of its walls had a length of 4,000 metres; thus,
it was even somewhat larger than the famous city of Loyang, capital of
China during the Later Han dynasty, in the second century A.D. Several
other cities of this period have been recently excavated and must have
had populations far above 10,000 persons. There were two types of
cities: the rectangular, planned city of the Chou conquerors, a seat of
administration; and the irregularly shaped city which grew out of a
market place and became only later an administrative centre. We do not
know much about the organization and administration of these cities, but
they seem to have had considerable independence because some of them
issued their own city coins.

When these cities grew, the food produced in the neighbourhood of the
towns no longer sufficed for their inhabitants. This led to the building
of roads, which also facilitated the transport of supplies for great
armies. These roads mainly radiated from the centre of consumption into
the surrounding country, and they were less in use for communication
between one administrative centre and another. For long journeys the
rivers were of more importance, since transport by wagon was always
expensive owing to the shortage of draught animals. Thus we see in this
period the first important construction of canals and a development of
communications. With the canal construction was connected the
construction of irrigation and drainage systems, which further promoted
agricultural production. The cities were places in which often great
luxury developed; music, dance, and other refinements were cultivated;
but the cities also seem to have harboured considerable industries.
Expensive and technically superior silks were woven; painters decorated
the walls of temples and palaces; blacksmiths and bronze-smiths produced
beautiful vessels and implements. It seems certain that the art of
casting iron and the beginnings of the production of steel were already
known at this time. The life of the commoners in these cities was
regulated by laws; the first codes are mentioned in 536 B.C. By the end
of the fourth century B.C. a large body of criminal law existed,
supposedly collected by Li K'uei, which became the foundation of all
later Chinese law. It seems that in this period the states of China
moved quickly towards a money economy, and an observer to whom the later
Chinese history was not known could have predicted the eventual
development of a capitalistic society out of the apparent tendencies.

So far nothing has been said in these chapters about China's foreign
policy. Since the central ruling house was completely powerless, and the
feudal lords were virtually independent rulers, little can be said, of
course, about any "Chinese" foreign policy. There is less than ever to
be said about it for this period of the "Contending States". Chinese
merchants penetrated southward, and soon settlers moved in increasing
numbers into the plains of the south-east. In the north, there were
continual struggles with Turkish and Mongol tribes, and about 300 B.C.
the name of the Hsiung-nu (who are often described as "The Huns of the
Far East") makes its first appearance. It is known that these northern
peoples had mastered the technique of horseback warfare and were far
ahead of the Chinese, although the Chinese imitated their methods. The
peasants of China, as they penetrated farther and farther north, had to
be protected by their rulers against the northern peoples, and since the
rulers needed their armed forces for their struggles within China, a
beginning was made with the building of frontier walls, to prevent
sudden raids of the northern peoples against the peasant settlements.
Thus came into existence the early forms of the "Great Wall of China".
This provided for the first time a visible frontier between Chinese and
non-Chinese. Along this frontier, just as by the walls of towns, great
markets were held at which Chinese peasants bartered their produce to
non-Chinese nomads. Both partners in this trade became accustomed to it
and drew very substantial profits from it. We even know the names of
several great horse-dealers who bought horses from the nomads and sold
them within China.

3 _Cultural changes_

Together with the economic and social changes in this period, there came
cultural changes. New ideas sprang up in exuberance, as would seem
entirely natural, because in times of change and crisis men always come
forward to offer solutions for pressing problems. We shall refer here
only briefly to the principal philosophers of the period.

Mencius (_c_. 372-289 B.C.) and Hsuen Tz[)u] (_c_. 298-238 B.C.) were
both followers of Confucianism. Both belonged to the so-called
"scholars", and both lived in the present Shantung, that is to say, in
eastern China. Both elaborated the ideas of Confucius, but neither of
them achieved personal success. Mencius (Meng Tz[)u]) recognized that
the removal of the ruling house of the Chou no longer presented any
difficulty. The difficult question for him was when a change of ruler
would be justified. And how could it be ascertained whom Heaven had
destined as successor if the existing dynasty was brought down? Mencius
replied that the voice of the "people", that is to say of the upper
class and its following, would declare the right man, and that this man
would then be Heaven's nominee. This theory persisted throughout the
history of China. Hsuen Tz[)u]'s chief importance lies in the fact that
he recognized that the "laws" of nature are unchanging but that man's
fate is determined not by nature alone but, in addition, by his own
activities. Man's nature is basically bad, but by working on himself
within the framework of society, he can change his nature and can
develop. Thus, Hsuen Tz[)u]'s philosophy contains a dynamic element, fit
for a dynamic period of history.

In the strongest contrast to these thinkers was the school of Mo Ti (at
some time between 479 and 381 B.C.). The Confucian school held fast to
the old feudal order of society, and was only ready to agree to a few
superficial changes. The school of Mo Ti proposed to alter the
fundamental principles of society. Family ethics must no longer be
retained; the principles of family love must be extended to the whole
upper class, which Mo Ti called the "people". One must love another
member of the upper class just as much as one's own father. Then the
friction between individuals and between states would cease. Instead of
families, large groups of people friendly to one another must be
created. Further one should live frugally and not expend endless money
on effete rites, as the Confucianists demanded. The expenditure on
weddings and funerals under the Confucianist ritual consumed so much
money that many families fell into debt and, if they were unable to pay
off the debt, sank from the upper into the lower class. In order to
maintain the upper class, therefore, there must be more frugality. Mo
Ti's teaching won great influence. He and his successors surrounded
themselves with a private army of supporters which was rigidly organized
and which could be brought into action at any time as its leader wished.
Thus the Mohists came forward everywhere with an approach entirely
different from that of the isolated Confucians. When the Mohists offered
their assistance to a ruler, they brought with them a group of technical
and military experts who had been trained on the same principles. In
consequence of its great influence this teaching was naturally hotly
opposed by the Confucianists.

We see clearly in Mo Ti's and his followers' ideas the influence of the
changed times. His principle of "universal love" reflects the breakdown
of the clans and the general weakening of family bonds which had taken
place. His ideal of social organization resembles organizations of
merchants and craftsmen which we know only of later periods. His stress
upon frugality, too, reflects a line of thought which is typical of
businessmen. The rationality which can also be seen in his metaphysical
ideas and which has induced modern Chinese scholars to call him an early
materialist is fitting to an age in which a developing money economy and
expanding trade required a cool, logical approach to the affairs of this

A similar mentality can be seen in another school which appeared from
the fifth century B.C. on, the "dialecticians". Here are a number of
names to mention: the most important are Kung-sun Lung and Hui Tz[)u],
who are comparable with the ancient Greek dialecticians and Sophists.
They saw their main task in the development of logic. Since, as we have
mentioned, many "scholars" journeyed from one princely court to another,
and other people came forward, each recommending his own method to the
prince for the increase of his power, it was of great importance to be
able to talk convincingly, so as to defeat a rival in a duel of words on
logical grounds.

Unquestionably, however, the most important school of this period was
that of the so-called Legalists, whose most famous representative was
Shang Yang (or Shang Tz[)u], died 338 B.C.). The supporters of this
school came principally from old princely families that had lost their
feudal possessions, and not from among the so-called scholars. They were
people belonging to the upper class who possessed political experience
and now offered their knowledge to other princes who still reigned.
These men had entirely given up the old conservative traditions of
Confucianism; they were the first to make their peace with the new
social order. They recognized that little or nothing remained of the old
upper class of feudal lords and their following. The last of the feudal
lords collected around the heads of the last remaining princely courts,
or lived quietly on the estates that still remained to them. Such a
class, with its moral and economic strength broken, could no longer
lead. The Legalists recognized, therefore, only the ruler and next to
him, as the really active and responsible man, the chancellor; under
these there were to be only the common people, consisting of the richer
and poorer peasants; the people's duty was to live and work for the
ruler, and to carry out without question whatever orders they received.
They were not to discuss or think, but to obey. The chancellor was to
draft laws which came automatically into operation. The ruler himself
was to have nothing to do with the government or with the application of
the laws. He was only a symbol, a representative of the equally inactive
Heaven. Clearly these theories were much the best suited to the
conditions of the break-up of feudalism about 300 B.C. Thus they were
first adopted by the state in which the old idea of the feudal state had
been least developed, the state of Ch'in, in which alien peoples were
most strongly represented. Shang Yang became the actual organizer of the
state of Ch'in. His ideas were further developed by Han Fei Tz[)u] (died
233 B.C.). The mentality which speaks out of his writings has closest
similarity to the famous Indian Arthashastra which originated slightly
earlier; both books exhibit a "Machiavellian" spirit. It must be
observed that these theories had little or nothing to do with the ideas
of the old cult of Heaven or with family allegiance; on the other hand,
the soldierly element, with the notion of obedience, was well suited to
the militarized peoples of the west. The population of Ch'in, organized
throughout on these principles, was then in a position to remove one
opponent after another. In the middle of the third century B.C. the
greater part of the China of that time was already in the hands of
Ch'in, and in 256 B.C. the last emperor of the Chou dynasty was
compelled, in his complete impotence, to abdicate in favour of the ruler
of Ch'in.

Apart from these more or less political speculations, there came into
existence in this period, by no mere chance, a school of thought which
never succeeded in fully developing in China, concerned with natural
science and comparable with the Greek natural philosophy. We have
already several times pointed to parallels between Chinese and Indian
thoughts. Such similarities may be the result of mere coincidence. But
recent findings in Central Asia indicate that direct connections between
India, Persia, and China may have started at a time much earlier than we
had formerly thought. Sogdian merchants who later played a great role in
commercial contacts might have been active already from 350 or 400 B.C.
on and might have been the transmitters of new ideas. The most important
philosopher of this school was Tsou Yen (flourished between 320 and 295
B.C.); he, as so many other Chinese philosophers of this time, was a
native of Shantung, and the ports of the Shantung coast may well have
been ports of entrance of new ideas from Western Asia as were the roads
through the Turkestan basin into Western China. Tsou Yen's basic ideas
had their root in earlier Chinese speculations: the doctrine that all
that exists is to be explained by the positive, creative, or the
negative, passive action (Yang and Yin) of the five elements, wood,
fire, earth, metal, and water (Wu hsing). But Tsou Yen also considered
the form of the world, and was the first to put forward the theory that
the world consists not of a single continent with China in the middle of
it, but of nine continents. The names of these continents sound like
Indian names, and his idea of a central world-mountain may well have
come from India. The "scholars" of his time were quite unable to
appreciate this beginning of science, which actually led to the
contention of this school, in the first century B.C., that the earth was
of spherical shape. Tsou Yen himself was ridiculed as a dreamer; but
very soon, when the idea of the reciprocal destruction of the elements
was applied, perhaps by Tsou Yen himself, to politics, namely when, in
connection with the astronomical calculations much cultivated by this
school and through the identification of dynasties with the five
elements, the attempt was made to explain and to calculate the duration
and the supersession of dynasties, strong pressure began to be brought
to bear against this school. For hundreds of years its books were
distributed and read only in secret, and many of its members were
executed as revolutionaries. Thus, this school, instead of becoming the
nucleus of a school of natural science, was driven underground. The
secret societies which started to arise clearly from the first century
B.C. on, but which may have been in existence earlier, adopted the
politico-scientific ideas of Tsou Yen's school. Such secret societies
have existed in China down to the present time. They all contained a
strong religious, but heterodox element which can often be traced back
to influences from a foreign religion. In times of peace they were
centres of a true, emotional religiosity. In times of stress, a
"messianic" element tended to become prominent: the world is bad and
degenerating; morality and a just social order have decayed, but the
coming of a savior is close; the saviour will bring a new, fair order
and destroy those who are wicked. Tsou Yen's philosophy seemed to allow
them to calculate when this new order would start; later secret
societies contained ideas from Iranian Mazdaism, Manichaeism and
Buddhism, mixed with traits from the popular religions and often couched
in terms taken from the Taoists. The members of such societies were,
typically, ordinary farmers who here found an emotional outlet for their
frustrations in daily life. In times of stress, members of the leading
_elite_ often but not always established contacts with these societies,
took over their leadership and led them to open rebellion. The fate of
Tsou Yen's school did not mean that the Chinese did not develop in the
field of sciences. At about Tsou Yen's lifetime, the first mathematical
handbook was written. From these books it is obvious that the interest
of the government in calculating the exact size of fields, the content
of measures for grain, and other fiscal problems stimulated work in this
field, just as astronomy developed from the interest of the government
in the fixation of the calendar. Science kept on developing in other
fields, too, but mainly as a hobby of scholars and in the shops of
craftsmen, if it did not have importance for the administration and
especially taxation and budget calculations.

Chapter Five

THE CH'IN DYNASTY (256-207 B.C.)

1 _Towards the unitary State_

In 256 B.C. the last ruler of the Chou dynasty abdicated in favour of
the feudal lord of the state of Ch'in. Some people place the beginning
of the Ch'in dynasty in that year, 256 B.C.; others prefer the date 221
B.C., because it was only in that year that the remaining feudal states
came to their end and Ch'in really ruled all China.

The territories of the state of Ch'in, the present Shensi and eastern
Kansu, were from a geographical point of view transit regions, closed
off in the north by steppes and deserts and in the south by almost
impassable mountains. Only between these barriers, along the rivers Wei
(in Shensi) and T'ao (in Kansu), is there a rich cultivable zone which
is also the only means of transit from east to west. All traffic from
and to Turkestan had to take this route. It is believed that strong
relations with eastern Turkestan began in this period, and the state of
Ch'in must have drawn big profits from its "foreign trade". The merchant
class quickly gained more and more importance. The population was
growing through immigration from the east which the government
encouraged. This growing population with its increasing means of
production, especially the great new irrigation systems, provided a
welcome field for trade which was also furthered by the roads, though
these were actually built for military purposes.

The state of Ch'in had never been so closely associated with the feudal
communities of the rest of China as the other feudal states. A great
part of its population, including the ruling class, was not purely
Chinese but contained an admixture of Turks and Tibetans. The other
Chinese even called Ch'in a "barbarian state", and the foreign influence
was, indeed, unceasing. This was a favourable soil for the overcoming of
feudalism, and the process was furthered by the factors mentioned in the
preceding chapter, which were leading to a change in the social
structure of China. Especially the recruitment of the whole population,
including the peasantry, for war was entirely in the interest of the
influential nomad fighting peoples within the state. About 250 B.C.,
Ch'in was not only one of the economically strongest among the feudal
states, but had already made an end of its own feudal system.

Every feudal system harbours some seeds of a bureaucratic system of
administration: feudal lords have their personal servants who are not
recruited from the nobility, but who by their easy access to the lord
can easily gain importance. They may, for instance, be put in charge of
estates, workshops, and other properties of the lord and thus acquire
experience in administration and an efficiency which are obviously of
advantage to the lord. When Chinese lords of the preceding period, with
the help of their sub-lords of the nobility, made wars, they tended to
put the newly-conquered areas not into the hands of newly-enfeoffed
noblemen, but to keep them as their property and to put their
administration into the hands of efficient servants; these were the
first bureaucratic officials. Thus, in the course of the later Chou
period, a bureaucratic system of administration had begun to develop,
and terms like "district" or "prefecture" began to appear, indicating
that areas under a bureaucratic administration existed beside and inside
areas under feudal rule. This process had gone furthest in Ch'in and was
sponsored by the representatives of the Legalist School, which was best
adapted to the new economic and social situation.

A son of one of the concubines of the penultimate feudal ruler of Ch'in
was living as a hostage in the neighbouring state of Chao, in what is
now northern Shansi. There he made the acquaintance of an unusual man,
the merchant Lue Pu-wei, a man of education and of great political
influence. Lue Pu-wei persuaded the feudal ruler of Ch'in to declare this
son his successor. He also sold a girl to the prince to be his wife, and
the son of this marriage was to be the famous and notorious Shih
Huang-ti. Lue Pu-wei came with his protege to Ch'in, where he became his
Prime Minister, and after the prince's death in 247 B.C. Lue Pu-wei
became the regent for his young son Shih Huang-ti (then called Cheng).
For the first time in Chinese history a merchant, a commoner, had
reached one of the highest positions in the state. It is not known what
sort of trade Lue Pu-wei had carried on, but probably he dealt in horses,
the principal export of the state of Chao. As horses were an absolute
necessity for the armies of that time, it is easy to imagine that a
horse-dealer might gain great political influence.

Soon after Shih Huang-ti's accession Lue Pu-wei was dismissed, and a new
group of advisers, strong supporters of the Legalist school, came into
power. These new men began an active policy of conquest instead of the
peaceful course which Lue Pu-wei had pursued. One campaign followed
another in the years from 230 to 222, until all the feudal states had
been conquered, annexed, and brought under Shih Huang-ti's rule.

2 _Centralization in every field_

The main task of the now gigantic realm was the organization of
administration. One of the first acts after the conquest of the other
feudal states was to deport all the ruling families and other important
nobles to the capital of Ch'in; they were thus deprived of the basis of
their power, and their land could be sold. These upper-class families
supplied to the capital a class of consumers of luxury goods which
attracted craftsmen and businessmen and changed the character of the
capital from that of a provincial town to a centre of arts and crafts.
It was decided to set up the uniform system of administration throughout
the realm, which had already been successfully introduced in Ch'in: the
realm was split up into provinces and the provinces into prefectures;
and an official was placed in charge of each province or prefecture.
Originally the prefectures in Ch'in had been placed directly under the
central administration, with an official, often a merchant, being
responsible for the collection of taxes; the provinces, on the other
hand, formed a sort of military command area, especially in the
newly-conquered frontier territories. With the growing militarization of
Ch'in, greater importance was assigned to the provinces, and the
prefectures were made subordinate to them. Thus the officials of the
provinces were originally army officers but now, in the reorganization
of the whole realm, the distinction between civil and military
administration was abolished. At the head of the province were a civil
and also a military governor, and both were supervised by a controller
directly responsible to the emperor. Since there was naturally a
continual struggle for power between these three officials, none of them
was supreme and none could develop into a sort of feudal lord. In this
system we can see the essence of the later Chinese administration.

[Illustration: 3 Bronze plaque representing two horses fighting each
other. Ordos region, animal style. _From V. Griessmaier: Sammlung Baron
Eduard von der Heydt, Vienna_ 1936, _illustration No_. 6.]

[Illustration: 4 Hunting scene: detail from the reliefs in the tombs at
Wu-liang-tz'u. _From a print in the author's possession_.]

[Illustration: 5 Part of the 'Great Wall'. _Photo Eberhard_.]

Owing to the centuries of division into independent feudal states, the
various parts of the country had developed differently. Each province
spoke a different dialect which also contained many words borrowed from
the language of the indigenous population; and as these earlier
populations sometimes belonged to different races with different
languages, in each state different words had found their way into the
Chinese dialects. This caused divergences not only in the spoken but in
the written language, and even in the characters in use for writing.
There exist to this day dictionaries in which the borrowed words of that
time are indicated, and keys to the various old forms of writing also
exist. Thus difficulties arose if, for instance, a man from the old
territory of Ch'in was to be transferred as an official to the east: he
could not properly understand the language and could not read the
borrowed words, if he could read at all! For a large number of the
officials of that time, especially the officers who became military
governors, were certainly unable to read. The government therefore
ordered that the language of the whole country should be unified, and
that a definite style of writing should be generally adopted. The words
to be used were set out in lists, so that the first lexicography came
into existence simply through the needs of practical administration, as
had happened much earlier in Babylon. Thus, the few recently found
manuscripts from pre-Ch'in times still contain a high percentage of
Chinese characters which we cannot read because they were local
characters; but all words in texts after the Ch'in time can be read
because they belong to the standardized script. We know now that all
classical texts of pre-Ch'in time as we have them today, have been
re-written in this standardized script in the second century B.C.: we do
not know which words they actually contained at the time when they were
composed, nor how these words were actually pronounced, a fact which
makes the reconstruction of Chinese language before Ch'in very

The next requirement for the carrying on of the administration was the
unification of weights and measures and, a surprising thing to us, of
the gauge of the tracks for wagons. In the various feudal states there
had been different weights and measures in use, and this had led to
great difficulties in the centralization of the collection of taxes. The
centre of administration, that is to say the new capital of Ch'in, had
grown through the transfer of nobles and through the enormous size of
the administrative staff into a thickly populated city with very large
requirements of food. The fields of the former state of Ch'in alone
could not feed the city; and the grain supplied in payment of taxation
had to be brought in from far around, partly by cart. The only roads
then existing consisted of deep cart-tracks. If the axles were not of
the same length for all carts, the roads were simply unusable for many
of them. Accordingly a fixed length was laid down for axles. The
advocates of all these reforms were also their beneficiaries, the

The first principle of the Legalist school, a principle which had been
applied in Ch'in and which was to be extended to the whole realm, was
that of the training of the population in discipline and obedience, so
that it should become a convenient tool in the hands of the officials.
This requirement was best met by a people composed as far as possible
only of industrious, uneducated, and tax-paying peasants. Scholars and
philosophers were not wanted, in so far as they were not directly
engaged in work commissioned by the state. The Confucianist writings
came under special attack because they kept alive the memory of the old
feudal conditions, preaching the ethic of the old feudal class which had
just been destroyed and must not be allowed to rise again if the state
was not to suffer fresh dissolution or if the central administration was
not to be weakened. In 213 B.C. there took place the great holocaust of
books which destroyed the Confucianist writings with the exception of
one copy of each work for the State Library. Books on practical subjects
were not affected. In the fighting at the end of the Ch'in dynasty the
State Library was burnt down, so that many of the old works have only
come down to us in an imperfect state and with doubtful accuracy. The
real loss arose, however, from the fact that the new generation was
little interested in the Confucianist literature, so that when, fifty
years later, the effort was made to restore some texts from the oral
tradition, there no longer existed any scholars who really knew them by
heart, as had been customary in the past.

In 221 B.C. Shih Huang-ti had become emperor of all China. The judgments
passed on him vary greatly: the official Chinese historiography rejects
him entirely--naturally, for he tried to exterminate Confucianism, while
every later historian was himself a Confucian. Western scholars often
treat him as one of the greatest men in world history. Closer research
has shown that Shih Huang-ti was evidently an average man without any
great gifts, that he was superstitious, and shared the tendency of his
time to mystical and shamanistic notions. His own opinion was that he
was the first of a series of ten thousand emperors of his dynasty (Shih
Huang-ti means "First Emperor"), and this merely suggests megalomania.
The basic principles of his administration had been laid down long
before his time by the philosophers of the Legalist school, and were
given effect by his Chancellor Li Ss[)u]. Li Ss[)u] was the really great
personality of that period. The Legalists taught that the ruler must do
as little as possible himself. His Ministers were there to act for him.
He himself was to be regarded as a symbol of Heaven. In that capacity
Shih Huang-ti undertook periodical journeys into the various parts of
the empire, less for any practical purpose of inspection than for
purposes of public worship. They corresponded to the course of the sun,
and this indicates that Shih Huang-ti had adopted a notion derived from
the older northern culture of the nomad peoples.

He planned the capital in an ambitious style but, although there was
real need for extension of the city, his plans can scarcely be regarded
as of great service. His enormous palace, and also his mausoleum which
was built for him before his death, were constructed in accordance with
astral notions. Within the palace the emperor continually changed his
residential quarters, probably not only from fear of assassination but
also for astral reasons. His mausoleum formed a hemispherical dome, and
all the stars of the sky were painted on its interior.

3 _Frontier defence. Internal collapse_

When the empire had been unified by the destruction of the feudal
states, the central government became responsible for the protection of
the frontiers from attack from without. In the south there were only
peoples in a very low state of civilization, who could offer no serious
menace to the Chinese. The trading colonies that gradually extended to
Canton and still farther south served as Chinese administrative centres
for provinces and prefectures, with small but adequate armies of their
own, so that in case of need they could defend themselves. In the north
the position was much more difficult. In addition to their conquest
within China, the rulers of Ch'in had pushed their frontier far to the
north. The nomad tribes had been pressed back and deprived of their best
pasturage, namely the Ordos region. When the livelihood of nomad peoples
is affected, when they are threatened with starvation, their tribes
often collect round a tribal leader who promises new pasturage and
better conditions of life for all who take part in the common campaigns.
In this way the first great union of tribes in the north of China came
into existence in this period, forming the realm of the Hsiung-nu under
their first leader, T'ou-man. This first realm of the Hsiung-nu was not
yet extensive, but its ambitious and warlike attitude made it a danger
to Ch'in. It was therefore decided to maintain a large permanent army in
the north. In addition to this, the frontier walls already existing in
the mountains were rebuilt and made into a single great system. Thus
came into existence in 214 B.C., out of the blood and sweat of countless
pressed labourers, the famous Great Wall.

On one of his periodical journeys the emperor fell ill and died. His
death was the signal for the rising of many rebellious elements. Nobles
rose in order to regain power and influence; generals rose because they
objected to the permanent pressure from the central administration and
their supervision by controllers; men of the people rose as popular
leaders because the people were more tormented than ever by forced
labour, generally at a distance from their homes. Within a few months
there were six different rebellions and six different "rulers".
Assassinations became the order of the day; the young heir to the throne
was removed in this way and replaced by another young prince. But as
early as 206 B.C. one of the rebels, Liu Chi (also called Liu Pang),
entered the capital and dethroned the nominal emperor. Liu Chi at first
had to retreat and was involved in hard fighting with a rival, but
gradually he succeeded in gaining the upper hand and defeated not only
his rival but also the other eighteen states that had been set up anew
in China in those years.


Chapter Six

THE HAN DYNASTY (206 B.C.-A.D. 220)

I _Development of the gentry-state_

In 206 B.C. Liu Chi assumed the title of Emperor and gave his dynasty
the name of the Han Dynasty. After his death he was given as emperor the
name of Kao Tsu.[4] The period of the Han dynasty may be described as
the beginning of the Chinese Middle Ages, while that of the Ch'in
dynasty represents the transition from antiquity to the Middle Ages; for
under the Han dynasty we meet in China with a new form of state, the
"gentry state". The feudalism of ancient times has come definitely to
its end.

[Footnote 4: From then on, every emperor was given after his death an
official name as emperor, under which he appears in the Chinese sources.
We have adopted the original or the official name according to which of
the two has come into the more general use in Western books.]

Emperor Kao Tsu came from eastern China, and his family seems to have
been a peasant family; in any case it did not belong to the old
nobility. After his destruction of his strongest rival, the removal of
the kings who had made themselves independent in the last years of the
Ch'in dynasty was a relatively easy task for the new autocrat, although
these struggles occupied the greater part of his reign. A much more
difficult question, however, faced him: How was the empire to be
governed? Kao Tsu's old friends and fellow-countrymen, who had helped
him into power, had been rewarded by appointment as generals or high
officials. Gradually he got rid of those who had been his best comrades,
as so many upstart rulers have done before and after him in every
country in the world. An emperor does not like to be reminded of a very
humble past, and he is liable also to fear the rivalry of men who
formerly were his equals. It is evident that little attention was paid
to theories of administration; policy was determined mainly by practical
considerations. Kao Tsu allowed many laws and regulations to remain in
force, including the prohibition of Confucianist writings. On the other
hand, he reverted to the allocation of fiefs, though not to old noble
families but to his relatives and some of his closest adherents,
generally men of inferior social standing. Thus a mixed administration
came into being: part of the empire was governed by new feudal princes,
and another part split up into provinces and prefectures and placed
directly under the central power through its officials.

But whence came the officials? Kao Tsu and his supporters, as farmers
from eastern China, looked down upon the trading population to which
farmers always regard themselves as superior. The merchants were ignored
as potential officials although they had often enough held official
appointments under the former dynasty. The second group from which
officials had been drawn under the Ch'in was that of the army officers,
but their military functions had now, of course, fallen to Kao Tsu's
soldiers. The emperor had little faith, however, in the loyalty of
officers, even of his own, and apart from that he would have had first
to create a new administrative organization for them. Accordingly he
turned to another class which had come into existence, the class later
called the _gentry_, which in practice had the power already in its

The term "gentry" has no direct parallel in Chinese texts; the later
terms "shen-shih" and "chin-shen" do not quite cover this concept. The
basic unit of the gentry class are families, not individuals. Such
families often derive their origin from branches of the Chou nobility.
But other gentry families were of different and more recent origin in
respect to land ownership. Some late Chou and Ch'in officials of
non-noble origin had become wealthy and had acquired land; the same was
true for wealthy merchants and finally, some non-noble farmers who were
successful in one or another way, bought additional land reaching the
size of large holdings. All "gentry" families owned substantial estates
in the provinces which they leased to tenants on a kind of contract
basis. The tenants, therefore, cannot be called "serfs" although their
factual position often was not different from the position of serfs. The
rents of these tenants, usually about half the gross produce, are the
basis of the livelihood of the gentry. One part of a gentry family
normally lives in the country on a small home farm in order to be able
to collect the rents. If the family can acquire more land and if this
new land is too far away from the home farm to make collection of rents
easy, a new home farm is set up under the control of another branch of
the family. But the original home remains to be regarded as the real
family centre.

In a typical gentry family, another branch of the family is in the
capital or in a provincial administrative centre in official positions.
These officials at the same time are the most highly educated members
of the family and are often called the "literati". There are also always
individual family members who are not interested in official careers or
who failed in their careers and live as free "literati" either in the
big cities or on the home farms. It seems, to judge from much later
sources, that the families assisted their most able members to enter the
official careers, while those individuals who were less able were used
in the administration of the farms. This system in combination with the
strong familism of the Chinese, gave a double security to the gentry
families. If difficulties arose in the estates either by attacks of
bandits or by war or other catastrophes, the family members in official
positions could use their influence and power to restore the property in
the provinces. If, on the other hand, the family members in official
positions lost their positions or even their lives by displeasing the
court, the home branch could always find ways to remain untouched and
could, in a generation or two, recruit new members and regain power and
influence in the government. Thus, as families, the gentry was secure,
although failures could occur to individuals. There are many gentry
families who remained in the ruling _elite_ for many centuries, some
over more than a thousand years, weathering all vicissitudes of life.
Some authors believe that Chinese leading families generally pass
through a three- or four-generation cycle: a family member by his
official position is able to acquire much land, and his family moves
upward. He is able to give the best education and other facilities to
his sons who lead a good life. But either these sons or the grandsons
are spoiled and lazy; they begin to lose their property and status. The
family moves downward, until in the fourth or fifth generation a new
rise begins. Actual study of families seems to indicate that this is not
true. The main branch of the family retains its position over centuries.
But some of the branch families, created often by the less able family
members, show a tendency towards downward social mobility.

It is clear from the above that a gentry family should be interested in
having a fair number of children. The more sons they have, the more
positions of power the family can occupy and thus, the more secure it
will be; the more daughters they have, the more "political" marriages
they can conclude, i.e. marriages with sons of other gentry families in
positions of influence. Therefore, gentry families in China tend to be,
on the average, larger than ordinary families, while in our Western
countries the leading families usually were smaller than the lower class
families. This means that gentry families produced more children than
was necessary to replenish the available leading positions; thus, some
family members had to get into lower positions and had to lose status.
In view of this situation it was very difficult for lower class families
to achieve access into this gentry group. In European countries the
leading _elite_ did not quite replenish their ranks in the next
generation, so that there was always some chance for the lower classes
to move up into leading ranks. The gentry society was, therefore, a
comparably stable society with little upward social mobility but with
some downward mobility. As a whole and for reasons of gentry
self-interest, the gentry stood for stability and against change.

The gentry members in the bureaucracy collaborated closely with one
another because they were tied together by bonds of blood or marriage.
It was easy for them to find good tutors for their children, because a
pupil owed a debt of gratitude to his teacher and a child from a gentry
family could later on nicely repay this debt; often, these teachers
themselves were members of other gentry families. It was easy for sons
of the gentry to get into official positions, because the people who had
to recommend them for office were often related to them or knew the
position of their family. In Han time, local officials had the duty to
recommend young able men; if these men turned out to be good, the
officials were rewarded, if not they were blamed or even punished. An
official took less of a chance, if he recommended a son of an
influential family, and he obliged such a candidate so that he could
later count on his help if he himself should come into difficulties.
When, towards the end of the second century B.C., a kind of examination
system was introduced, this attitude was not basically changed.

The country branch of the family by the fact that it controlled large
tracts of land, supplied also the logical tax collectors: they had the
standing and power required for this job. Even if they were appointed in
areas other than their home country (a rule which later was usually
applied), they knew the gentry families of the other district or were
related to them and got their support by appointing their members as
their assistants.

Gentry society continued from Kao Tsu's time to 1948, but it went
through a number of phases of development and changed considerably in
time. We will later outline some of the most important changes. In
general the number of politically leading gentry families was around one
hundred (texts often speak of "the hundred families" in this time) and
they were concentrated in the capital; the most important home seats of
these families in Han time were close to the capital and east of it or
in the plains of eastern China, at that time the main centre of grain

We regard roughly the first one thousand years of "Gentry Society" as
the period of the Chinese "Middle Ages", beginning with the Han dynasty;
the preceding time of the Ch'in was considered as a period of
transition, a time in which the feudal period of "Antiquity" came to a
formal end and a new organization of society began to become visible.
Even those authors who do not accept a sociological classification of
periods and many authors who use Marxist categories, believe that with
Ch'in and Han a new era in Chinese history began.

2 _Situation of the Hsiung-nu empire; its relation to the Han empire.
Incorporation of South China_

In the time of the Ch'in dynasty there had already come into unpleasant
prominence north of the Chinese frontier the tribal union, then
relatively small, of the Hsiung-nu. Since then, the Hsiung-nu empire had
destroyed the federation of the Yueeh-chih tribes (some of which seem to
have been of Indo-European language stock) and incorporated their people
into their own federation; they had conquered also the less well
organized eastern pastoral tribes, the Tung-hu and thus had become a
formidable power. Everything goes to show that it had close relations
with the territories of northern China. Many Chinese seem to have
migrated to the Hsiung-nu empire, where they were welcome as artisans
and probably also as farmers; but above all they were needed for the
staffing of a new state administration. The scriveners in the newly
introduced state secretariat were Chinese and wrote Chinese, for at that
time the Hsiung-nu apparently had no written language. There were
Chinese serving as administrators and court officials, and even as
instructors in the army administration, teaching the art of warfare
against non-nomads. But what was the purpose of all this? Mao Tun, the
second ruler of the Hsiung-nu, and his first successors undoubtedly
intended ultimately to conquer China, exactly as many other northern
peoples after them planned to do, and a few of them did. The main
purpose of this was always to bring large numbers of peasants under the
rule of the nomad rulers and so to solve, once for all, the problem of
the provision of additional winter food. Everything that was needed, and
everything that seemed to be worth trying to get as they grew more
civilized, would thus be obtained better and more regularly than by
raids or by tedious commercial negotiations. But if China was to be
conquered and ruled there must exist a state organization of equal
authority to hers; the Hsiung-nu ruler must himself come forward as Son
of Heaven and develop a court ceremonial similar to that of a Chinese
emperor. Thus the basis of the organization of the Hsiung-nu state lay
in its rivalry with the neighbouring China; but the details naturally
corresponded to the special nature of the Hsiung-nu social system. The
young Hsiung-nu feudal state differed from the ancient Chinese feudal
state not only in depending on a nomad economy with only supplementary
agriculture, but also in possessing, in addition to a whole class of
nobility and another of commoners, a stratum of slavery to be analysed
further below. Similar to the Chou state, the Hsiung-nu state contained,
especially around the ruler, an element of court bureaucracy which,
however, never developed far enough to replace the basically feudal
character of administration.

Thus Kao Tsu was faced in Mao Tun not with a mere nomad chieftain but
with the most dangerous of enemies, and Kao Tsu's policy had to be
directed to preventing any interference of the Hsiung-nu in North
Chinese affairs, and above all to preventing alliances between Hsiung-nu
and Chinese. Hsiung-nu alone, with their technique of horsemen's
warfare, would scarcely have been equal to the permanent conquest of the
fortified towns of the north and the Great Wall, although they
controlled a population which may have been in excess of 2,000,000
people. But they might have succeeded with Chinese aid. Actually a
Chinese opponent of Kao Tsu had already come to terms with Mao Tun, and
in 200 B.C. Kao Tsu was very near suffering disaster in northern Shansi,
as a result of which China would have come under the rule of the
Hsiung-nu. But it did not come to that, and Mao Tun made no further
attempt, although the opportunity came several times. Apparently the
policy adopted by his court was not imperialistic but national, in the
uncorrupted sense of the word. It was realized that a country so thickly
populated as China could only be administered from a centre within
China. The Hsiung-nu would thus have had to abandon their home territory
and rule in China itself. That would have meant abandoning the flocks,
abandoning nomad life, and turning into Chinese. The main supporters of
the national policy, the first principle of which was loyalty to the old
ways of life, seem to have been the tribal chieftains. Mao Tun fell in
with their view, and the Hsiung-nu maintained their state as long as
they adhered to that principle--for some seven hundred years. Other
nomad peoples, Toba, Mongols, and Manchus, followed the opposite policy,
and before long they were caught in the mechanism of the much more
highly developed Chinese economy and culture, and each of them
disappeared from the political scene in the course of a century or so.

The national line of policy of the Hsiung-nu did not at all mean an end
of hostilities and raids on Chinese territory, so that Kao Tsu declared
himself ready to give the Hsiung-nu the foodstuffs and clothing
materials they needed if they would make an end of their raids. A treaty
to this effect was concluded, and sealed by the marriage of a Chinese
princess with Mao Tun. This was the first international treaty in the
Far East between two independent powers mutually recognized as equals,
and the forms of international diplomacy developed in this time remained
the standard forms for the next thousand years. The agreement was
renewed at the accession of each new ruler, but was never adhered to
entirely by either side. The needs of the Hsiung-nu increased with the
expansion of their empire and the growing luxury of their court; the
Chinese, on the other hand, wanted to give as little as possible, and no
doubt they did all they could to cheat the Hsiung-nu. Thus, in spite of
the treaties the Hsiung-nu raids went on. With China's progressive
consolidation, the voluntary immigration of Chinese into the Hsiung-nu
empire came to an end, and the Hsiung-nu actually began to kidnap
Chinese subjects. These were the main features of the relations between
Chinese and Hsiung-nu almost until 100 B.C.

In the extreme south, around the present-day Canton, another independent
empire had been formed in the years of transition, under the leadership
of a Chinese. The narrow basis of this realm was no doubt provided by
the trading colonies, but the indigenous population of Yueeh tribes was
insufficiently civilized for the building up of a state that could have
maintained itself against China. Kao Tsu sent a diplomatic mission to
the ruler of this state, and invited him to place himself under Chinese
suzerainty (196 B.C.). The ruler realized that he could offer no serious
resistance, while the existing circumstances guaranteed him virtual
independence and he yielded to Kao Tsu without a struggle.

3 _Brief feudal reaction. Consolidation of the gentry_

Kao Tsu died in 195 B.C. From then to 179 the actual ruler was his
widow, the empress Lue, while children were officially styled emperors.
The empress tried to remove all the representatives of the emperor's
family and to replace them with members of her own family. To secure her
position she revived the feudal system, but she met with strong
resistance from the dynasty and its supporters who already belonged in
many cases to the new gentry, and who did not want to find their
position jeopardized by the creation of new feudal lords.

On the death of the empress her opponents rose, under the leadership of
Kao Tsu's family. Every member of the empress's family was exterminated,
and a son of Kao Tsu, known later under the name of Wen Ti (Emperor
Wen), came to the throne. He reigned from 179 to 157 B.C. Under him
there were still many fiefs, but with the limitation which the emperor
Kao Tsu had laid down shortly before his death: only members of the
imperial family should receive fiefs, to which the title of King was
attached. Thus all the more important fiefs were in the hands of the
imperial family, though this did not mean that rivalries came to an end.

On the whole Wen Ti's period of rule passed in comparative peace. For
the first time since the beginning of Chinese history, great areas of
continuous territory were under unified rule, without unending internal
warfare such as had existed under Shih Huang-ti and Kao Tsu. The
creation of so extensive a region of peace produced great economic
advance. The burdens that had lain on the peasant population were
reduced, especially since under Wen Ti the court was very frugal. The
population grew and cultivated fresh land, so that production increased
and with it the exchange of goods. The most outstanding sign of this was
the abandonment of restrictions on the minting of copper coin, in order
to prevent deflation through insufficiency of payment media. As a
consequence more taxes were brought in, partly in kind, partly in coin,
and this increased the power of the central government. The new gentry
streamed into the towns, their standard of living rose, and they made
themselves more and more into a class apart from the general population.
As people free from material cares, they were able to devote themselves
to scholarship. They went back to the old writings and studied them once
more. They even began to identify themselves with the nobles of feudal
times, to adopt the rules of good behaviour and the ceremonial described
in the Confucianist books, and very gradually, as time went on, to make
these their textbooks of good form. From this point the Confucianist
ideals first began to penetrate the official class recruited from the
gentry, and then the state organization itself. It was expected that an
official should be versed in Confucianism, and schools were set up for
Confucianist education. Around 100 B.C. this led to the introduction of
the examination system, which gradually became the one method of
selection of new officials. The system underwent many changes, but
remained in operation in principle until 1904. The object of the
examinations was not to test job efficiency but command of the ideals of
the gentry and knowledge of the literature inculcating them: this was
regarded as sufficient qualification for any position in the service of
the state.

In theory this path to training of character and to admission to the
state service was open to every "respectable" citizen. Of the
traditional four "classes" of Chinese society, only the first two,
officials (_shih_) and farmers (_nung_) were always regarded as fully
"respectable" (_liang-min_). Members of the other two classes, artisans
(_kung_) and merchants (_shang_), were under numerous restrictions.
Below these were classes of "lowly people" (_ch'ien-min_) and below
these the slaves which were not part of society proper. The privileges
and obligations of these categories were soon legally fixed. In
practice, during the first thousand years of the existence of the
examination system no peasant had a chance to become an official by
means of the examinations. In the Han period the provincial officials
had to propose suitable young persons for examination, and so for
admission to the state service, as was already mentioned. In addition,
schools had been instituted for the sons of officials; it is interesting
to note that there were, again and again, complaints about the low level
of instruction in these schools. Nevertheless, through these schools all
sons of officials, whatever their capacity or lack of capacity, could
become officials in their turn. In spite of its weaknesses, the system
had its good side. It inoculated a class of people with ideals that were
unquestionably of high ethical value. The Confucian moral system gave a
Chinese official or any member of the gentry a spiritual attitude and an
outward bearing which in their best representatives has always commanded
respect, an integrity that has always preserved its possessors, and in
consequence Chinese society as a whole, from moral collapse, from
spiritual nihilism, and has thus contributed to the preservation of
Chinese cultural values in spite of all foreign conquerors.

In the time of Wen Ti and especially of his successors, the revival at
court of the Confucianist ritual and of the earlier Heaven-worship
proceeded steadily. The sacrifices supposed to have been performed in
ancient times, the ritual supposed to have been prescribed for the
emperor in the past, all this was reintroduced. Obviously much of it was
spurious: much of the old texts had been lost, and when fragments were
found they were arbitrarily completed. Moreover, the old writing was
difficult to read and difficult to understand; thus various things were
read into the texts without justification. The new Confucians who came
forward as experts in the moral code were very different men from their
predecessors; above all, like all their contemporaries, they were
strongly influenced by the shamanistic magic that had developed in the
Ch'in period.

Wen Ti's reign had brought economic advance and prosperity;
intellectually it had been a period of renaissance, but like every such
period it did not simply resuscitate what was old, but filled the
ancient moulds with an entirely new content. Socially the period had
witnessed the consolidation of the new upper class, the gentry, who
copied the mode of life of the old nobility. This is seen most clearly
in the field of law. In the time of the Legalists the first steps had
been taken in the codification of the criminal law. They clearly
intended these laws to serve equally for all classes of the people. The
Ch'in code which was supposedly Li K'uei's code, was used in the Han
period, and was extensively elaborated by Siao Ho (died 193 B.C.) and
others. This code consisted of two volumes of the chief laws for grave
cases, one of mixed laws for the less serious cases, and six volumes on
the imposition of penalties. In the Han period "decisions" were added,
so that about A.D. 200 the code had grown to 26,272 paragraphs with over
17,000,000 words. The collection then consisted of 960 volumes. This
colossal code has been continually revised, abbreviated, or expanded,
and under its last name of "Collected Statues of the Manchu Dynasty" it
retained its validity down to the present century.

Alongside this collection there was another book that came to be
regarded and used as a book of precedences. The great Confucianist
philosopher Tung Chung-shu (179-104 B.C.), a firm supporter of the
ideology of the new gentry class, declared that the classic Confucianist
writings, and especially the book _Ch'un-ch'iu_, "Annals of Spring and
Autumn", attributed to Confucius himself, were essentially books of
legal decisions. They contained "cases" and Confucius's decisions of
them. Consequently any case at law that might arise could be decided by
analogy with the cases contained in "Annals of Spring and Autumn". Only
an educated person, of course, a member of the gentry, could claim that
his action should be judged by the decisions of Confucius and not by the
code compiled for the common people, for Confucius had expressly stated
that his rules were intended only for the upper class. Thus, right down
to modern times an educated person could be judged under regulations
different from those applicable to the common people, or if judged on
the basis of the laws, he had to expect a special treatment. The
principle of the "equality before the law" which the Legalists had
advocated and which fitted well into the absolutistic, totalitarian
system of the Ch'in, had been attacked by the feudal nobility at that
time and was attacked by the new gentry of the Han time. Legalist
thinking remained an important undercurrent for many centuries to come,
but application of the equalitarian principle was from now on never
seriously considered.

Against the growing influence of the officials belonging to the gentry
there came a last reaction. It came as a reply to the attempt of a
representative of the gentry to deprive the feudal princes of the whole
of their power. In the time of Wen Ti's successor a number of feudal
kings formed an alliance against the emperor, and even invited the
Hsiung-nu to join them. The Hsiung-nu did not do so, because they saw
that the rising had no prospect of success, and it was quelled. After
that the feudal princes were steadily deprived of rights. They were
divided into two classes, and only privileged ones were permitted to
live in the capital, the others being required to remain in their
domains. At first, the area was controlled by a "minister" of the
prince, an official of the state; later the area remained under normal
administration and the feudal prince kept only an empty title; the tax
income of a certain number of families of an area was assigned to him
and transmitted to him by normal administrative channels. Often, the
number of assigned families was fictional in that the actual income was
from far fewer families. This system differs from the Near Eastern
system in which also no actual enforcement took place, but where
deserving men were granted the right to collect themselves the taxes of
a certain area with certain numbers of families.

Soon after this the whole government was given the shape which it
continued to have until A.D. 220, and which formed the point of
departure for all later forms of government. At the head of the state
was the emperor, in theory the holder of absolute power in the state
restricted only by his responsibility towards "Heaven", i.e. he had to
follow and to enforce the basic rules of morality, otherwise "Heaven"
would withdraw its "mandate", the legitimation of the emperor's rule,
and would indicate this withdrawal by sending natural catastrophes. Time
and again we find emperors publicly accusing themselves for their faults
when such catastrophes occurred; and to draw the emperor's attention to
actual or made-up calamities or celestial irregularities was one way to
criticize an emperor and to force him to change his behaviour. There are
two other indications which show that Chinese emperors--excepting a few
individual cases--at least in the first ten centuries of gentry society
were not despots: it can be proved that in some fields the
responsibility for governmental action did not lie with the emperor but
with some of his ministers. Secondly, the emperor was bound by the law
code: he could not change it nor abolish it. We know of cases in which
the ruler disregarded the code, but then tried to "defend" his arbitrary
action. Each new dynasty developed a new law code, usually changing only
details of the punishment, not the basic regulations. Rulers could issue
additional "regulations", but these, too, had to be in the spirit of
the general code and the existing moral norms. This situation has some
similarity to the situation in Muslim countries. At the ruler's side
were three counsellors who had, however, no active functions. The real
conduct of policy lay in the hands of the "chancellor", or of one of the
"nine ministers". Unlike the practice with which we are familiar in the
West, the activities of the ministries (one of them being the court
secretariat) were concerned primarily with the imperial palace. As,
however, the court secretariat, one of the nine ministries, was at the
same time a sort of imperial statistical office, in which all economic,
financial, and military statistical material was assembled, decisions on
issues of critical importance for the whole country could and did come
from it. The court, through the Ministry of Supplies, operated mines and
workshops in the provinces and organized the labour service for public
constructions. The court also controlled centrally the conscription for
the general military service. Beside the ministries there was an
extensive administration of the capital with its military guards. The
various parts of the country, including the lands given as fiefs to
princes, had a local administration, entirely independent of the central
government and more or less elaborated according to their size. The
regional administration was loosely associated with the central
government through a sort of primitive ministry of the interior, and
similarly the Chinese representatives in the protectorates, that is to
say the foreign states which had submitted to Chinese protective
overlordship, were loosely united with a sort of foreign ministry in the
central government. When a rising or a local war broke out, that was the
affair of the officer of the region concerned. If the regional troops
were insufficient, those of the adjoining regions were drawn upon; if
even these were insufficient, a real "state of war" came into being;
that is to say, the emperor appointed eight generals-in-chief, mobilized
the imperial troops, and intervened. This imperial army then had
authority over the regional and feudal troops, the troops of the
protectorates, the guards of the capital, and those of the imperial
palace. At the end of the war the imperial army was demobilized and the
generals-in-chief were transferred to other posts.

In all this there gradually developed a division into civil and military
administration. A number of regions would make up a province with a
military governor, who was in a sense the representative of the imperial
army, and who was supposed to come into activity only in the event of

This administration of the Han period lacked the tight organization that
would make precise functioning possible. On the other hand, an
extremely important institution had already come into existence in a
primitive form. As central statistical authority, the court secretariat
had a special position within the ministries and supervised the
administration of the other offices. Thus there existed alongside the
executive a means of independent supervision of it, and the resulting
rivalry enabled the emperor or the chancellor to detect and eliminate
irregularities. Later, in the system of the T'ang period (A.D. 618-906),
this institution developed into an independent censorship, and the
system was given a new form as a "State and Court Secretariat", in which
the whole executive was comprised and unified. Towards the end of the
T'ang period the permanent state of war necessitated the permanent
commissioning of the imperial generals-in-chief and of the military
governors, and as a result there came into existence a "Privy Council of
State", which gradually took over functions of the executive. The system
of administration in the Han and in the T'ang period is shown in the
following table:

_Han epoch_ _T'ang epoch_

1. Emperor 1. Emperor

2. Three counsellors to the emperor 2. Three counsellors and three
(with no active functions) assistants (with no active

3. Eight supreme generals (only 3. Generals and Governors-General
appointed in time of war) (only appointed in time of
war; but in practice
continuously in office)

4. --------------------------- 4. (a) State secretariat
(1) Central secretariat
(2) Secretariat of the Crown
(3) Secretariat of the Palace
and imperial historical
(b) Emperor's Secretariat
(1) Private Archives
(2) Court Adjutants' Office
(3) Harem administration

5. Court administration 5. Court administration
(Ministries) (Ministries)
(1) Ministry for state (1) Ministry for state
sacrifices sacrifices
(2) Ministry for imperial (2) Ministry for imperial
coaches and horses coaches and horses
(3) Ministry for justice at (3) Ministry for justice at
court court
(4) Ministry for receptions (4) Ministry for receptions
(i.e. foreign affairs)
(5) Ministry for ancestors' (5) Ministry for ancestors'
temples temples
(6) Ministry for supplies to (6) Ministry for supplies to
the court the court
(7) Ministry for the harem (7) Economic and financial
(8) Ministry for the palace (8) Ministry for the payment
guards of salaries
(9) Ministry for the court (9) Ministry for armament
(state secretariat) and magazines

6. Administration of the 6. Administration of the
capital: capital:
(1) Crown prince's palace (1) Crown prince's palace
(2) Security service for the (2) Palace guards and guards'
capital office
(3) Capital administration: (3) Arms production department
(a) Guards of the capital
(b) Guards of the city gates
(c) Building department
(4) Labour service department
(5) Building department
(6) Transport department
(7) Department for education
(of sons of officials!)

7. Ministry of the Interior 7. Ministry of the Interior
(Provincial administration) (Provincial administration)

8. Foreign Ministry 8. ---------------------------

9. Censorship (Audit council)

There is no denying that according to our standard this whole system was
still elementary and "personal", that is to say, attached to the
emperor's person--though it should not be overlooked that we ourselves
are not yet far from a similar phase of development. To this day the
titles of not a few of the highest officers of state--the Lord Privy
Seal, for instance--recall that in the past their offices were conceived
as concerned purely with the personal service of the monarch. In one
point, however, the Han administrative set-up was quite modern: it
already had a clear separation between the emperor's private treasury
and the state treasury; laws determined which of the two received
certain taxes and which had to make certain payments. This separation,
which in Europe occurred not until the late Middle Ages, in China was
abolished at the end of the Han Dynasty.

The picture changes considerably to the advantage of the Chinese as
soon as we consider the provincial administration. The governor of a
province, and each of his district officers or prefects, had a staff
often of more than a hundred officials. These officials were drawn from
the province or prefecture and from the personal friends of the
administrator, and they were appointed by the governor or the prefect.
The staff was made up of officials responsible for communications with
the central or provincial administration (private secretary, controller,
finance officer), and a group of officials who carried on the actual
local administration. There were departments for transport, finance,
education, justice, medicine (hygiene), economic and military affairs,
market control, and presents (which had to be made to the higher
officials at the New Year and on other occasions). In addition to these
offices, organized in a quite modern style, there was an office for
advising the governor and another for drafting official documents and

The interesting feature of this system is that the provincial
administration was _de facto_ independent of the central administration,
and that the governor and even his prefects could rule like kings in
their regions, appointing and discharging as they chose. This was a
vestige of feudalism, but on the other hand it was a healthy check
against excessive centralization. It is thanks to this system that even
the collapse of the central power or the cutting off of a part of the
empire did not bring the collapse of the country. In a remote frontier
town like Tunhuang, on the border of Turkestan, the life of the local
Chinese went on undisturbed whether communication with the capital was
maintained or was broken through invasions by foreigners. The official
sent from the centre would be liable at any time to be transferred
elsewhere; and he had to depend on the practical knowledge of his
subordinates, the members of the local families of the gentry. These
officials had the local government in their hands, and carried on the
administration of places like Tunhuang through a thousand years and
more. The Hsin family, for instance, was living there in 50 B.C. and was
still there in A.D. 950; and so were the Yin, Ling-hu, Li, and K'ang

All the officials of the various offices or Ministries were appointed
under the state examination system, but they had no special professional
training; only for the more important subordinate posts were there
specialists, such as jurists, physicians, and so on. A change came
towards the end of the T'ang period, when a Department of Commerce and
Monopolies was set up; only specialists were appointed to it, and it was
placed directly under the emperor. Except for this, any official could
be transferred from any ministry to any other without regard to his

4 _Turkestan policy. End of the Hsiung-nu empire_

In the two decades between 160 and 140 B.C. there had been further
trouble with the Hsiung-nu, though there was no large-scale fighting.
There was a fundamental change of policy under the next emperor, Wu (or
Wu Ti, 141-86 B.C.). The Chinese entered for the first time upon an
active policy against the Hsiung-nu. There seem to have been several
reasons for this policy, and several objectives. The raids of the
Hsiung-nu from the Ordos region and from northern Shansi had shown
themselves to be a direct menace to the capital and to its extremely
important hinterland. Northern Shansi is mountainous, with deep ravines.
A considerable army on horseback could penetrate some distance to the
south before attracting attention. Northern Shensi and the Ordos region
are steppe country, in which there were very few Chinese settlements and
through which an army of horsemen could advance very quickly. It was
therefore determined to push back the Hsiung-nu far enough to remove
this threat. It was also of importance to break the power of the
Hsiung-nu in the province of Kansu, and to separate them as far as
possible from the Tibetans living in that region, to prevent any union
between those two dangerous adversaries. A third point of importance was
the safeguarding of caravan routes. The state, and especially the
capital, had grown rich through Wen Ti's policy. Goods streamed into the
capital from all quarters. Commerce with central Asia had particularly
increased, bringing the products of the Middle East to China. The
caravan routes passed through western Shensi and Kansu to eastern
Turkestan, but at that time the Hsiung-nu dominated the approaches to
Turkestan and were in a position to divert the trade to themselves or
cut it off. The commerce brought profit not only to the caravan traders,
most of whom were probably foreigners, but to the officials in the
provinces and prefectures through which the routes passed. Thus the
officials in western China were interested in the trade routes being
brought under direct control, so that the caravans could arrive
regularly and be immune from robbery. Finally, the Chinese government
may well have regarded it as little to its honour to be still paying
dues to the Hsiung-nu and sending princesses to their rulers, now that
China was incomparably wealthier and stronger than at the time when that
policy of appeasement had begun.

[Illustration: Map 3. China in the struggle with the Huns or Hsiung Nu
(_roughly 128-100 B.C._)]

The first active step taken was to try, in 133 B.C., to capture the
head of the Hsiung-nu state, who was called a _shan-yue_ but the
_shan-yue_ saw through the plan and escaped. There followed a period of
continuous fighting until 119 B.C. The Chinese made countless attacks,
without lasting success. But the Hsiung-nu were weakened, one sign of
this being that there were dissensions after the death of the _shan-yue_
Chuen-ch'en, and in 127 B.C. his son went over to the Chinese. Finally
the Chinese altered their tactics, advancing in 119 B.C. with a strong
army of cavalry, which suffered enormous losses but inflicted serious
loss on the Hsiung-nu. After that the Hsiung-nu withdrew farther to the
north, and the Chinese settled peasants in the important region of

Meanwhile, in 125 B.C., the famous Chang Ch'ien had returned. He had
been sent in 138 to conclude an alliance with the Yueeh-chih against the
Hsiung-nu. The Yueeh-chih had formerly been neighbours of the Hsiung-nu
as far as the Ala Shan region, but owing to defeat by the Hsiung-nu
their remnants had migrated to western Turkestan. Chang Ch'ien had
followed them. Politically he had no success, but he brought back
accurate information about the countries in the far west, concerning
which nothing had been known beyond the vague reports of merchants. Now
it was learnt whence the foreign goods came and whither the Chinese
goods went. Chang Ch'ien's reports (which are one of the principal
sources for the history of central Asia at that remote time)
strengthened the desire to enter into direct and assured commercial
relations with those distant countries. The government evidently thought
of getting this commerce into its own hands. The way to do this was to
impose "tribute" on the countries concerned. The idea was that the
missions bringing the annual "tribute" would be a sort of state
bartering commissions. The state laid under tribute must supply
specified goods at its own cost, and received in return Chinese produce,
the value of which was to be roughly equal to the "tribute". Thus Chang
Ch'ien's reports had the result that, after the first successes against
the Hsiung-nu, there was increased interest in a central Asian policy.
The greatest military success were the campaigns of General Li Kuang-li
to Ferghana in 104 and 102 B.C. The result of the campaigns was to bring
under tribute all the small states in the Tarim basin and some of the
states of western Turkestan. From now on not only foreign consumer goods
came freely into China, but with them a great number of other things,
notably plants such as grape, peach, pomegranate.

In 108 B.C. the western part of Korea was also conquered. Korea was
already an important transit region for the trade with Japan. Thus this
trade also came under the direct influence of the Chinese government.
Although this conquest represented a peril to the eastern flank of the
Hsiung-nu, it did not by any means mean that they were conquered. The
Hsiung-nu while weakened evaded the Chinese pressure, but in 104 B.C.
and again in 91 they inflicted defeats on the Chinese. The Hsiung-nu
were indirectly threatened by Chinese foreign policy, for the Chinese
concluded an alliance with old enemies of the Hsiung-nu, the Wu-sun, in
the north of the Tarim basin. This made the Tarim basin secure for the
Chinese, and threatened the Hsiung-nu with a new danger in their rear.
Finally the Chinese did all they could through intrigue, espionage, and
sabotage to promote disunity and disorder within the Hsiung-nu, though
it cannot be seen from the Chinese accounts how far the Chinese were
responsible for the actual conflicts and the continual changes of
_shan-yue_. Hostilities against the Hsiung-nu continued incessantly,
after the death of Wu Ti, under his successor, so that the Hsiung-nu
were further weakened. In consequence of this it was possible to rouse
against them other tribes who until then had been dependent on them--the
Ting-ling in the north and the Wu-huan in the east. The internal
difficulties of the Hsiung-nu increased further.

Wu Ti's active policy had not been directed only against the Hsiung-nu.
After heavy fighting he brought southern China, with the region round
Canton, and the south-eastern coast, firmly under Chinese dominion--in
this case again on account of trade interests. No doubt there were
already considerable colonies of foreign merchants in Canton and other
coastal towns, trading in Indian and Middle East goods. The traders seem
often to have been Sogdians. The southern wars gave Wu Ti the control of
the revenues from this commerce. He tried several times to advance
through Yuennan in order to secure a better land route to India, but
these attempts failed. Nevertheless, Chinese influence became stronger
in the south-west.

In spite of his long rule, Wu Ti did not leave an adult heir, as the
crown prince was executed, with many other persons, shortly before Wu
Ti's death. The crown prince had been implicated in an alleged attempt
by a large group of people to remove the emperor by various sorts of
magic. It is difficult to determine today what lay behind this affair;
probably it was a struggle between two cliques of the gentry. Thus a
regency council had to be set up for the young heir to the throne; it
included a member of a Hsiung-nu tribe. The actual government was in the
hands of a general and his clique until the death of the heir to the
throne, and at the beginning of his successor's reign.

At this time came the end of the Hsiung-nu empire--a foreign event of
the utmost importance. As a result of the continual disastrous wars
against the Chinese, in which not only many men but, especially, large
quantities of cattle fell into Chinese hands, the livelihood of the
Hsiung-nu was seriously threatened; their troubles were increased by
plagues and by unusually severe winters. To these troubles were added
political difficulties, including unsettled questions in regard to the
succession to the throne. The result of all this was that the Hsiung-nu
could no longer offer effective military resistance to the Chinese.
There were a number of _shan-yue_ ruling contemporaneously as rivals, and
one of them had to yield to the Chinese in 58 B.C.; in 51 he came as a
vassal to the Chinese court. The collapse of the Hsiung-nu empire was
complete. After 58 B.C. the Chinese were freed from all danger from that
quarter and were able, for a time, to impose their authority in Central

5 _Impoverishment. Cliques. End of the Dynasty_

In other respects the Chinese were not doing as well as might have been
assumed. The wars carried on by Wu Ti and his successors had been
ruinous. The maintenance of large armies of occupation in the new
regions, especially in Turkestan, also meant a permanent drain on the
national funds. There was a special need for horses, for the people of
the steppes could only be fought by means of cavalry. As the Hsiung-nu
were supplying no horses, and the campaigns were not producing horses
enough as booty, the peasants had to rear horses for the government.
Additional horses were bought at very high prices, and apart from this
the general financing of the wars necessitated increased taxation of the
peasants, a burden on agriculture no less serious than was the enrolment
of many peasants for military service. Finally, the new external trade
did not by any means bring the advantages that had been hoped for. The
tribute missions brought tribute but, to begin with, this meant an
obligation to give presents in return; moreover, these missions had to
be fed and housed in the capital, often for months, as the official
receptions took place only on New Year's Day. Their maintenance entailed
much expense, and meanwhile the members of the missions traded privately
with the inhabitants and the merchants of the capital, buying things
they needed and selling things they had brought in addition to the
tribute. The tribute itself consisted mainly of "precious articles",
which meant strange or rare things of no practical value. The emperor
made use of them as elements of personal luxury, or made presents of
some of them to deserving officials. The gifts offered by the Chinese in
return consisted mainly of silk. Silk was received by the government as
a part of the tax payments and formed an important element of the
revenue of the state. It now went abroad without bringing in any
corresponding return. The private trade carried on by the members of the
missions was equally unserviceable to the Chinese. It, too, took from
them goods of economic value, silk and gold, which went abroad in
exchange for luxury articles of little or no economic importance, such
as glass, precious stones, or stud horses, which in no way benefited the
general population. Thus in this last century B.C. China's economic
situation grew steadily and fairly rapidly worse. The peasants, more
heavily taxed than ever, were impoverished, and yet the exchequer became
not fuller but emptier, so that gold began even to be no longer
available for payments. Wu Ti was aware of the situation and called
different groups together to discuss the problems of economics. Under
the name "Discussions on Salt and Iron" the gist of these talks is
preserved and shows that one group under the leadership of Sang
Hung-yang (143-80 B.C.) was business-oriented and thinking in economic
terms, while their opponents, mainly Confucianists, regarded the
situation mainly as a moral crisis. Sang proposed an "equable
transportation" and a "standardization" system and favoured other state
monopolies and controls; these ideas were taken up later and continued
to be discussed, again and again.

Already under Wu Ti there had been signs of a development which now
appeared constantly in Chinese history. Among the new gentry, families
entered into alliances with each other, sealed their mutual allegiance
by matrimonial unions, and so formed large cliques. Each clique made it
its concern to get the most important government positions into its
hands, so that it should itself control the government. Under Wu Ti, for
example, almost all the important generals had belonged to a certain
clique, which remained dominant under his two successors. Two of the
chief means of attaining power were for such a clique to give the
emperor a girl from its ranks as wife, and to see to it that all the
eunuchs around the emperor should be persons dependent on the clique.
Eunuchs came generally from the poorer classes; they were launched at
court by members of the great cliques, or quite openly presented to the

The chief influence of the cliques lay, however, in the selection of
officials. It is not surprising that the officials recommended only sons
of people in their own clique--their family or its closest associates.
On top of all this, the examiners were in most cases themselves members
of the same families to which the provincial officials belonged. Thus it
was made doubly certain that only those candidates who were to the
liking of the dominant group among the gentry should pass.

Surrounded by these cliques, the emperors became in most cases powerless
figureheads. At times energetic rulers were able to play off various
cliques against each other, and so to acquire personal power; but the
weaker emperors found themselves entirely in the hands of cliques. Not a
few emperors in China were removed by cliques which they had attempted
to resist; and various dynasties were brought to their end by the
cliques; this was the fate of the Han dynasty.

The beginning of its fall came with the activities of the widow of the
emperor Yuean Ti. She virtually ruled in the name of her
eighteen-year-old son, the emperor Ch'eng Ti (32-7 B.C.), and placed all
her brothers, and also her nephew, Wang Mang, in the principal
government posts. They succeeded at first in either removing the
strongest of the other cliques or bringing them into dependence. Within
the Wang family the nephew Wang Mang steadily advanced, securing direct
supporters even in some branches of the imperial family; these
personages declared their readiness to join him in removing the existing
line of the imperial house. When Ch'eng Ti died without issue, a young
nephew of his (Ai Ti, 6-1 B.C.) was placed on the throne by Wang Mang,
and during this period the power of the Wangs and their allies grew
further, until all their opponents had been removed and the influence of
the imperial family very greatly reduced. When Ai Ti died, Wang Mang
placed an eight-year-old boy on the throne, himself acting as regent;
four years later the boy fell ill and died, probably with Wang Mang's
aid. Wang Mang now chose a one-year-old baby, but soon after he felt
that the time had come for officially assuming the rulership. In A.D. 8
he dethroned the baby, ostensibly at Heaven's command, and declared
himself emperor and first of the Hsin ("new") dynasty. All the members
of the old imperial family in the capital were removed from office and
degraded to commoners, with the exception of those who had already been
supporting Wang Mang. Only those members who held unimportant posts at a
distance remained untouched.

Wang Mang's "usurpation" is unusual from two points of view. First, he
paid great attention to public opinion and induced large masses of the
population to write petitions to the court asking the Han ruler to
abdicate; he even fabricated "heavenly omina" in his own favour and
against the Han dynasty in order to get wide support even from
intellectuals. Secondly, he inaugurated a formal abdication ceremony,
culminating in the transfer of the imperial seal to himself. This
ceremony became standard for the next centuries. The seal was made of a
precious stone, once presented to the Ch'in dynasty ruler before he
ascended the throne. From now on, the possessor of this seal was the
legitimate ruler.

6 _The pseudo-socialistic dictatorship. Revolt of the "Red Eyebrows"_

Wang Mang's dynasty lasted only from A.D. 9 to 23; but it was one of the
most stirring periods of Chinese history. It is difficult to evaluate
Wang Mang, because all we know about him stems from sources hostile
towards him. Yet we gain the impression that some of his innovations,
such as the legalization of enthronement through the transfer of the
seal; the changes in the administration of provinces and in the
bureaucratic set-up in the capital; and even some of his economic
measures were so highly regarded that they were retained or
reintroduced, although this happened in some instances centuries later
and without mentioning Wang Mang's name. But most of his policies and
actions were certainly neither accepted nor acceptable. He made use of
every conceivable resource in order to secure power to his clique. As
far as possible he avoided using open force, and resorted to a
high-level propaganda. Confucianism, the philosophic basis of the power
of the gentry, served him as a bait; he made use of the so-called "old
character school" for his purposes. When, after the holocaust of books,
it was desired to collect the ancient classics again, texts were found
under strange circumstances in the walls of Confucius's house; they were
written in an archaic script. The people who occupied themselves with
these books were called the old character school. The texts came under
suspicion; most scholars had little belief in their genuineness. Wang
Mang, however, and his creatures energetically supported the cult of
these ancient writings. The texts were edited and issued, and in the
process, as can now be seen, certain things were smuggled into them that
fitted in well with Wang Mang's intentions. He even had other texts
reissued with falsifications. He now represented himself in all his
actions as a man who did with the utmost precision the things which the
books reported of rulers or ministers of ancient times. As regent he had
declared that his model was the brother of the first emperor of the Chou
dynasty; as emperor he took for his exemplar one of the mythical
emperors of ancient China; of his new laws he claimed that they were
simply revivals of decrees of the golden age. In all this he appealed to
the authority of literature that had been tampered with to suit his
aims. Actually, such laws had never before been customary; either Wang
Mang completely misinterpreted passages in an ancient text to suit his
purpose, or he had dicta that suited him smuggled into the text. There
can be no question that Wang Mang and his accomplices began by
deliberately falsifying and deceiving. However, as time went on, he
probably began to believe in his own frauds.

Wang Mang's great series of certain laws has brought him the name of
"the first Socialist on the throne of China". But closer consideration
reveals that these measures, ostensibly and especially aimed at the good
of the poor, were in reality devised simply in order to fill the
imperial exchequer and to consolidate the imperial power. When we read
of the turning over of great landed estates to the state, do we not
imagine that we are faced with a modern land reform? But this applied
only to the wealthiest of all the landowners, who were to be deprived in
this way of their power. The prohibition of private slave-owning had a
similar purpose, the state reserving to itself the right to keep slaves.
Moreover, landless peasants were to receive land to till, at the expense
of those who possessed too much. This admirable law, however, was not
intended seriously to be carried into effect. Instead, the setting up of
a system of state credits for peasants held out the promise, in spite of
rather reduced interest rates, of important revenue. The peasants had
never been in a position to pay back their private debts together with
the usurious interest, but there were at least opportunities of coming
to terms with a private usurer, whereas the state proved a merciless
creditor. It could dispossess the peasant, and either turn his property
into a state farm, convey it to another owner, or make the peasant a
state slave. Thus this measure worked against the interest of the
peasants, as did the state monopoly of the exploitation of mountains and
lakes. "Mountains and lakes" meant the uncultivated land around
settlements, the "village commons", where people collected firewood or
went fishing. They now had to pay money for fishing rights and for the
right to collect wood, money for the emperor's exchequer. The same
purpose lay behind the wine, salt, and iron tool monopolies. Enormous
revenues came to the state from the monopoly of minting coin, when old
metal coin of full value was called in and exchanged for debased coin.
Another modern-sounding institution, that of the "equalization offices",
was supposed to buy cheap goods in times of plenty in order to sell them
to the people in times of scarcity at similarly low prices, so
preventing want and also preventing excessive price fluctuations. In
actual fact these state offices formed a new source of profit, buying
cheaply and selling as dearly as possible.

Thus the character of these laws was in no way socialistic; nor,
however, did they provide an El Dorado for the state finances, for Wang
Mang's officials turned all the laws to their private advantage. The
revenues rarely reached the capital; they vanished into the pockets of
subordinate officials. The result was a further serious lowering of the
level of existence of the peasant population, with no addition to the
financial resources of the state. Yet Wang Mang had great need of money,
because he attached importance to display and because he was planning a
new war. He aimed at the final destruction of the Hsiung-nu, so that
access to central Asia should no longer be precarious and it should thus
be possible to reduce the expense of the military administration of
Turkestan. The war would also distract popular attention from the
troubles at home. By way of preparation for war, Wang Mang sent a
mission to the Hsiung-nu with dishonouring proposals, including changes
in the name of the Hsiung-nu and in the title of the _shan-yue_. The name
Hsiung-nu was to be given the insulting change of Hsiang-nu, meaning
"subjugated slaves". The result was that risings of the Hsiung-nu took
place, whereupon Wang Mang commanded that the whole of their country
should be partitioned among fifteen _shan-yue_ and declared the country
to be a Chinese province. Since this declaration had no practical
result, it robbed Wang Mang of the increased prestige he had sought and
only further infuriated the Hsiung-nu. Wang Mang concentrated a vast
army on the frontier. Meanwhile he lost the whole of the possessions in

But before Wang Mang's campaign against the Hsiung-nu could begin, the
difficulties at home grew steadily worse. In A.D. 12 Wang Mang felt
obliged to abrogate all his reform legislation because it could not be
carried into effect; and the economic situation proved more lamentable
than ever. There were continual risings, which culminated in A.D. 18 in
a great popular insurrection, a genuine revolutionary rising of the
peasants, whose distress had grown beyond bearing through Wang Mang's
ill-judged measures. The rebels called themselves "Red Eyebrows"; they
had painted their eyebrows red by way of badge and in order to bind
their members indissolubly to their movement. The nucleus of this rising
was a secret society. Such secret societies, usually are harmless, but
may, in emergency situations, become an immensely effective instrument
in the hands of the rural population. The secret societies then organize
the peasants, in order to achieve a forcible settlement of the matter in
dispute. Occasionally, however, the movement grows far beyond its
leaders' original objective and becomes a popular revolutionary
movement, directed against the whole ruling class. That is what happened
on this occasion. Vast swarms of peasants marched to the capital,
killing all officials and people of position on their way. The troops
sent against them by Wang Mang either went over to the Red Eyebrows or
copied them, plundering wherever they could and killing officials. Owing
to the appalling mass murders and the fighting, the forces placed by
Wang Mang along the frontier against the Hsiung-nu received no
reinforcements and, instead of attacking the Hsiung-nu, themselves went
over to plundering, so that ultimately the army simply disintegrated.
Fortunately for China, the _shan-yue_ of the time did not take advantage
of his opportunity, perhaps because his position within the Hsiung-nu
empire was too insecure.

Scarcely had the popular rising begun when descendants of the deposed
Han dynasty appeared and tried to secure the support of the upper class.
They came forward as fighters against the usurper Wang Mang and as
defenders of the old social order against the revolutionary masses. But
the armies which these Han princes were able to collect were no better
than those of the other sides. They, too, consisted of poor and hungry
peasants, whose aim was to get money or goods by robbery; they too,
plundered and murdered more than they fought.

However, one prince by the name of Liu Hsiu gradually gained the upper
hand. The basis of his power was the district of Nanyang in Honan, one
of the wealthiest agricultural centres of China at that time and also
the centre of iron and steel production. The big landowners, the gentry
of Nanyang, joined him, and the prince's party conquered the capital.
Wang Mang, placing entire faith in his sanctity, did not flee; he sat in
his robes in the throne-room and recited the ancient writings, convinced
that he would overcome his adversaries by the power of his words. But a
soldier cut off his head (A.D. 22). The skull was kept for two hundred
years in the imperial treasury. The fighting, nevertheless, went on.
Various branches of the prince's party fought one another, and all of
them fought the Red Eyebrows. In those years millions of men came to
their end. Finally, in A.D. 24, Liu Hsiu prevailed, becoming the first

Facebook Google Reddit Twitter Pinterest