Ancient China Simplified - Edward Harper Parker - ebook

This is an easy to read yet highly informative history of ancient China. It is a classic in the field and covers all aspects of ancient Chinese life and culture. From the dynasties of the kings to the occupations and entertainments of the people, including ancient Chinese religions, sports, literature and customs. As well as the politics, geography and wars of this great civilization. It also includes chapters on ancient japan, human sacrifice, ancestor worship, and many interesting but generally unknown facts.

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Edward Harper Parker

Ancient China Simplified

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Ancient China Simplified

By Edward Harper Parker



The year 842 B.C. may be considered the first accurate date in Chinese history, and in this year the Emperor had to flee from his capital on account of popular dissatisfaction with his tyrannical ways: he betook himself northward to an outlying settlement on the Tartar frontier, and the charge of imperial affairs was taken over by a regency or duumvirate.

At this time the confederation of cultured princes called China— or, to use their own term, the Central Kingdom—was a very different region from the huge mass of territory familiar to us under those names at the present day. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that civilized China, even at that comparatively advanced period, consisted of little more than the modern province of Ho Nan. All outside this flat and comparatively riverless region inhabited by the "orthodox" was more or less barbaric, and such civilization as it possessed was entirely the work of Chinese colonists, adventurers, or grantees of fiefs in partibus infidelium (so to speak). Into matters of still earlier ancient history we may enter more deeply in another chapter, but for the present we simply take China as it was when definite chronology begins.

The third of the great dynasties which had ruled over this limited China had, in 842 B.C., already been on the imperial throne for practically three hundred years, and, following the custom of its predecessors, it had parcelled out all the land under its sway to vassal princes who were, subject to the general imperial law and custom, or ritual, together with the homage and tribute duty prescribed thereunder, all practically absolute in their own domains. Roughly speaking, those smaller fiefs may be said to have corresponded in size with the walled-city and surrounding district of our own times, so well known under the name of hien. About a dozen of the larger fiefs had been originally granted to the blood relations of the dynastic founder in or after 1122 B.C.; but not exclusively so, for it seems to have been a point of honour, or of religious scruple, not to "cut off the sacrifices" from ruined or disgraced reigning families, unless the attendant circumstances were very gross; and so it came to pass that successive dynasties would strain a point in order to keep up the spiritual memory of decayed or rival houses.

Thus, at the time of which we speak (842 B.C.), about ten of the dozen or so of larger vassal princes were either of the same clan as the Emperor himself, or were descended from remoter branches of that clan before it secured the imperial throne; or, again, were descended from ministers and statesmen who had assisted the founder to obtain empire; whilst the two or three remaining great vassals were lineal representatives of previous dynasties, or of their great ministers, keeping up the honour and the sacrifices of bygone historical personages. As for the minor fiefs, numbering somewhere between a thousand and fifteen hundred, these play no part in political history, except as this or that one of them may have been thrust prominently forward for a moment as a pawn in the game of ambition played by the greater vassals. Nominally the Emperor was direct suzerain lord of all vassals, great or small; but in practice the greater vassal princes seem to have been what in the Norman feudal system were called "mesne lords"; that is, each one was surrounded by his own group of minor ruling lords, who, in turn, naturally clung for protection to that powerful magnate who was most immediately accessible in case of need; thus vassal rulers might be indefinitely multiplied, and there is some vagueness as to their numbers.

Just as the oldest civilizations of the West concentrated themselves along the banks of the Euphrates and the Nile, so the most ancient Chinese civilization is found concentrated along the south bank of the Yellow River. The configuration of the land as shown on a modern map assists us to understand how the industrious cultivators and weavers, finding the flat and so-called loess territory too confined for their ever-increasing numbers, threw out colonies wherever attraction offered, and wherever the riverine systems gave them easy access; whether by boat and raft; or whether—as seems more probable, owing to the scanty mention of boat-travel—by simply following the low levels sought by the streams, and tilling on their way such pasturages as they found by the river-sides. When it is said that the earliest Chinese we know of clung to the Yellow River bed, it must be remembered that "the River" (as they call it simply) turned sharp to the north at a point in Ho Nan province very far to the west of its present northerly course, near a city marked in the modern maps as Jung-t&h, in lat. 35 degrees N., long, 114 degrees E., or thereabouts; moreover, its course further north lay considerably to the westward of the present Grand Canal, taking possession now of the bed of the Wei River, now of that of the Chang River, according to whether we regard it before or after the year 602 B.C.; but always entering the Gulf near modern Tientsin. Hence we need not be surprised to find that the Conqueror or Assertor of the dynasty had conferred upon a staunch adviser, of alien origin, and upon two of his most trusty relatives, the three distant fiefs which commanded both sides of the Yellow River mouth, at that time near the modern Tientsin. There was no Canal in those days, and the river which runs past Confucius' birth-place, and now goes towards feeding the Grand Canal, had then a free course south-east towards the lakes in Kiang Su province to the north of Nanking. It will be noticed that quite a network of tributary rivers take their rise in Ho Nan province, and trend in an easterly direction towards the intricate Hwai River system. The River Hwai, which has a great history in the course of Chinese development, was in quite recent times taken possession of by the Yellow River for some years, and since then the Grand Canal and the lakes between them have so impeded its natural course that it may be said to have no natural delta at all; to be dissipated in a dedalus of salt flats, irrigation channels, and marshes: hence it is not so obvious to us now why the whole coast-line was at the period we are now describing, when there was no Grand Canal, quite beyond the reach of Chinese colonization from the Yellow River valley: this was only possible in two directions—firstly to the south, by way of the numerous ramifications of the Han River, which now, as then, joins the Yang-tsz Kiang at Hankow; and secondly to the south- east, by way of the equally numerous ramifications of the Hwai River, which entered the sea in lat. 34ø N. No easy emigration to the westward or south-westward was possible in those comparatively roadless days, for not a single river pointed out the obvious way to would-be colonists.

Accustomed as we now are to regard China as one vast homogeneous whole, approachable to us easily from the sea, it is not easy for us to understand the historical lines of expansion without these preliminary explanations. Corea and Japan were totally unknown even by name, and even Liao Tung, or "East of the River Liao," which was then inhabited by Corean tribes, was, if known by tradition at all, certainly only in communication with the remote Chinese colony, or vassal state, in possession of the Peking plain: on the other hand, this vassal state itself (if it had records of its own at all), for the three centuries previous to 842 B.C., had no political relations with the federated Chinese princes, and nothing is known of its internal doings, or of its immediate relations (if any) with Manchus and Coreans. The whole coast-line of Shan Tung was in the hands of various tribes of "Eastern Barbarians." True, a number of Chinese vassal rulers held petty fiefs to the south and the east of the two highly civilized principalities already described as being in possession of the Lower Yellow River; but the originally orthodox rulers of these petty colonies are distinctly stated to have partly followed barbarian usage, even despite their own imperial clan origin, and to have paid court to these two greater vassals as mesne lords, instead of direct to the Emperor. South of these, again, came the Hwai group of Eastern barbarians in possession of the Lower Hwai valley, and the various quite unknown tribes of Eastern barbarians occupying the marshy salt flats and shore accretions on the Kiang Su coast right down to the River Yang-tsz mouth.

As we shall see, a century or two later than 842 B.C. powerful semi-Chinese states began to assert themselves against the federated orthodox Chinese princes lying to their north; but, when dated history first opens, Central China knew nothing whatever of any part of the vast region lying to the south of the Yang-tsz; nothing whatever of what we now call Yiin Nan and Sz Ch'wan, not to say of the Indian and Tibetan dominions lying beyond them; fortiori nothing of Formosa, Hainan, Cochin-China, Tonquin, Burma, Siam, or the various Hindoo trading colonies advancing from the South Sea Islands northwards along the Indo-Chinese coasts; nothing whatever of Tsaidam, the Tarim Valley, the Desert, the Persian civilization, Turkestan, Kashgaria, Tartary, or Siberia.

It is, and will here be made, quite clear that the whole of the left bank of the Yellow River was in possession of various Turkish and Tartar-Tibetan tribes. The only exception is that the south- west corner of Shan Si province, notably the territory enclosed between the Yellow River and the River F&n (which, running from the north, bisects Shan Si province and enters the Yellow River about lat. 35" 30' N., long. 110 degrees 30' E.) was colonized by a branch of the imperial family quite capable of holding its own against the Tartars; in fact, the valley of this river as far north as P'ing-yang Fu had been in semi-mythical times (2300 B.C.) the imperial residence. It will be noticed that the River Wei joins the Yellow River on its right bank, just opposite the point where this latter, flowing from the north, bends eastwards, the Wei itself flowing from the west. This Wei Valley (including the sub- valleys of its north-bank tributaries) was also in 842 B.C. colonized by an ancient Chinese family—not of imperial extraction so far as the reigning house was concerned—which, by adopting Tartar, or perhaps Tartar—Tibetan, manners, had for many generations succeeded in acquiring a predominant influence in that region. Assuming that—which is not at all improbable—the nomad horsemen in unchallenged possession of the whole desert and Tartar expanse had at any time, as a consequence of their raids in directions away from China westward, brought to China any new ideas, new commercial objects, or new religious notions, these novelties must almost necessarily have filtered through this semi- Chinese half-barbarous state in possession of the Wei Valley, or through other of their Tartar kinsmen periodically engaged in raiding the settled Chinese cultivators farther east, along the line of what is now the Great Wall, and the northern parts of Shan Si and Chih Li provinces.

We shall allude in a more convenient place and chapter to specific traditions touching the supposed journeys about 990 B.C. of a Chinese Emperor to Turkestan; the alleged missions from Tonquin to a still earlier Chinese Emperor or Regent; and the pretended colonization of Corea by an aggrieved Chinese noble-all three events some centuries earlier than the opening period of dated history of which we now specially speak. For the present we ignore them, as, even if true, these events have had, and have now, no specific or definite influence whatever on the question of Chinese political development as expounded here. It seems certain that for many centuries previous to 842 B.C. the ruling and the literary Chinese had known of the existence of at least the Lower Yang-tsz and its three mouths (the Shanghai mouth and the Hangchow mouth have ceased long ago to exist at all): they also seem to have heard in a vague way of "moving sands" beyond the great northerly bend of the Yellow River in Tartarland. It is not even impossible that the persistent traditions of two of their very ancient Emperors having been buried south of the Yang-tsz—one near the modern coast treaty-port of Ningpo, the other near the modern riverine treaty-port of Ch'ang-sha—may be true; for nothing is more likely than that they both met their death whilst exploring the tributaries of the mysterious Yang-tsz Kiang lying to their south; because the father of the adventurous Emperor who is supposed to have explored Tartary in ggo B.C. certainly lost his life in attempting to explore the region of Hankow, as will be explained in due course.

All this, however, is matter of side issue. The main point we wish to insist upon, by way of introduction, in endeavouring to give our readers an intelligible notion of early Chinese development, is that Chinese beginnings were like any other great nation's beginnings—like, for instance, the Greek beginnings; these were centred at first round an extremely petty area, which, gradually expanding, threw out its tentacles and branches, and led to the final inclusion of the mysterious Danube, the gloomy Russian plain, the Tin Islands, Ultima Thule, and the Atlantic coasts into one fairly harmonious Graeco-Roman civilization. Or it may be compared to the development of the petty Anglo-Saxon settlements and kingdoms and sub-kingdoms, and their gradual political absorption of the surrounding Celts. In any case it may be said that there is nothing startlingly new about it; it followed a normal course.


Having now seen how the Chinese people, taking advantage of the material and moral growth naturally following upon a settled industrial existence, and above all upon the exclusive possession of a written character, gradually imposed themselves as rulers upon the ignorant tribes around them, let us see to what families these Chinese emigrant adventurers or colonial satraps belonged. To begin with the semi-Tartar power in the River Wei Valley— destined six hundred years later to conquer the whole of China as we know it to-day—the ruling caste claimed descent from the most ancient (and of course partly mythological) Emperors of China; but for over a thousand years previous to 842 B.C. this remote branch of the Chinese race had become scattered and almost lost amongst the Tartars. However, a generation or two before our opening period, one of these princes had served the then ruling imperial dynasty as a sort of guardian to the western frontier, as a rearer of horses for the metropolitan stud, and perhaps even as a guide on the occasion of imperial expeditions into Tartarland. The successor of the Emperor who was driven from his capital in 842 B.C. about twenty years later employed this western satrap to chastise the Tartar nomads whose revolt had in part led to the imperial flight. After suffering some disasters, the conductors of this series of expeditions were at last successful, and in 815 B.C. the title of "Warden of the Western Marches" was officially conferred on the ruler for the time being of this western state, who in 777 B.C. had the further honour of seeing one of his daughters married to the Emperor himself. This political move on the part of the Emperor was unwise, for it led indirectly to the Tartars, who were frequently engaged in war with the Warden, interfering in the quarrels about the imperial succession, in which question the Tartars naturally thought they had a right to interfere in the interests of their own people. The upshot of it was that in 771 B.C. the Emperor was killed by the Tartars in battle, and it was only by securing the military assistance of the semi-Tartar Warden of the Marches that the imperial dynasty was saved. As it was, the Emperor's capital was permanently moved east from the immediate neighbourhood of what we call Si-ngan Fu in Shen Si province to the immediate neighbourhood of Ho-nan Fu in the modern Ho Nan province; and as a reward for his services the Warden was granted nearly the whole of the original imperial patrimony west of the Yellow River bend and on both sides of the Wei Valley. This was also in the year 771 B.C., and this is really one of the great pivot-points in Chinese history, of equal weight with the almost contemporaneous founding of Rome, and the gradual substitution of a Roman centre for a Greek centre in the development and civilization of the Far West. The new capital was not, however, a new city. Shortly after the imperial dynasty gained the possession of China in 1122 B.C., it had been surveyed, and some of the regalia had been taken thither; this, with a view of making it one of the capitals at least, if not the sole capital.

As Chinese names sound uncouth to our Western ears, and will, therefore, in these introductory chapters only be used sparingly and gradually, it becomes correspondingly difficult to explain historical phenomena adequately whilst endeavouring to avoid as far as possible the use of such unintelligible names: it will be well, then, to sum up the situation, and even repeat a little, so that the reader may assimilate the main points without fatigue or repulsion. The reigning dynasty of Chou had secured the adhesion of the thousand or more of Chinese vassal princes in 1122 B.C., and had in other words "conquered" China by invitation, much in the same way, and for very much the same general reasons, that William III. had' accepted the conquest of the British Isles; that is to say, because the people were dissatisfied with their legitimate ruler and his house. But, before this conquest, the vassal princes of Chou had occupied practically the same territory, and had stood in the same relation to the imperial dynasty subsequently ousted by them in 1122, that the Wardens of the Marches occupied and stood in when the imperial house of Chou in turn fled east in 771 B.C. The Shang dynasty thus ousted by the Chou princes in 1122, had for like misgovernment driven out the Hia dynasty in 1766 B.C. Thus, at the time when the Wardens of the Marches (whose real territorial title was Princes of Ts'in) practically put the imperial power into commission in 771 B.C., the two old-fashioned dynasties of Shang and Chou had already ruled patriarchally for almost exactly one thousand years, and nothing of either a very startling, or a very definite, character had taken place at all within the comparatively narrow area described in our first chapter.

From this date of 771 B.C., and for five hundred years more down to 250 B.C., when the Chou dynasty was extinguished, the rule of the feudal Emperors of China was almost purely nominal, and except in so far as this or that powerful vassal made use of the moral, and even occasionally of the military power of the metropolitan district when it suited his purpose, the imperial ruler was chiefly exercised in matters of form and ritual; for under all three patriarchal dynasties it was on form and ritual that the idea of government had always been based. Of course the other powerful satraps—especially the more distant ones, those not bearing the imperial clan-name, and those more or less tinged with barbarian usages—learning by degrees what a helpless and powerless personage the Emperor had now become, lost no time in turning the novel situation to their own advantage: it is consequently now that begins the "tyrant period," or the period of the "Five Dictators," as the Chinese historians loosely term it: that is to say, the period during which each satrap who had the power to do so took the lead of the satrap body in general, and gave out that he was restoring the imperial prestige, representing the Emperor's majesty, carrying out the behests of reason, compelling the other vassals to do their duty, keeping up the legitimist sacrifices, and so on. In other words, the population of China had grown so enormously, both by peaceful in-breeding and by imperceptible absorption of kindred races, that more elbow-room was needed; more freedom from the shackles of ritual, rank, and feudal caste; more independence, and more liberty to take advantage of local or changed traditions. Besides all this, the art of writing, though still clumsy, expensive, and confined in its higher and literary aspects to the governing classes, had recently become simplified and improved; the salt trade, iron trade, fish industry, silk industry, grain trade, and art of usury had spread from one state to the other, and had developed: though the land roads were bad or non-existent, there were great numbers of itinerant dealers in cattle and army provisions. In a word, material civilization had made great strides during the thousand years of patriarchal rule immediately preceding the critical period comprised between the year 842 B.C. and the year 771 B.C. The voices of the advocates and the preachers of ancient patriarchal virtues were as of men crying in a wilderness of substantial prosperity and manly ambition. Thus political and natural forces combined with each other to prepare the way for a radical change, and this period of incipient revolution is precisely the period (722-480) treated of in Confucius' history, the first history of China—meagre though it be—which deals with definite human facts, instead of "beating the air" (as the Chinese say) with sermons and ritualistic exhortations.


We have already alluded to a princely family, of the same clan- name as the Chou Emperor, which had settled in the southern part of modern Shan Si province, and had thus acted as a sort of buffer state to the imperial domain by keeping off from it the Tartar- Turk tribes in the north. This family was enfeoffed by the new Chou dynasty in 1106 B.C. to replace the extremely ancient princely house which had reigned there ever since the earliest Emperors ruled from that region (2300 B.C.), but which had resisted the Chou conquest, and had been exterminated. Nothing definite is known of what transpired in this principality subsequently to the infeoffment of 1106 B.C., and prior to the events of 771 B.C., at which latter date the ruling prince, hearing of the disaster to his kinsman the Emperor, went to meet that monarch's fugitive successor, and escorted him eastwards to his new capital. This metropolis had, as we have explained already, been marked out some 340 years before this, and had continued to be one of the chief spiritual and political centres in the imperial domain; but for some reason it had never before 771 B.C. been officially declared a capital, or at all events the capital. Confucius, in his history, does not mention at all the petty semi-Tartar state of which we are now speaking before 671 B.C., and all that we know of its doings during this century of time is that rival factions, family intrigues, and petty annexations at the cost of various Tartar tribes, and of small, but ancient, Chinese principalities, occupied most of its time. It must be repeated here, however, that, notwithstanding Tartar neighbours, the valley of the River Fen had been the seat of several of China's oldest semi-mythical emperors-possibly even of dynasties,-and at no time do the Tartars seem to have ever succeeded in ousting the Chinese from South Shan Si. The official name of the region after the Chou infeoffment of 1106 B.C. was the State of Tsin, and it was roughly divided off to the west from its less civilized colleague Ts'in by the Yellow River, on the right bank of which Tsin still possessed a number of towns. It is particularly difficult for Europeans to realize the sharp distinction in sound between these two names, the more especially because we have in the West no conception whatever of the effect of tone upon a syllable It may be explained, however, that the sonant initial and even-voiced tone in the one case, contrasted with the surd initial and the scaled tone in the other, involves to the Chinese mind a distinction quite as clear in all dialects as the European distinction in all languages between the two states of Prussia and Russia, or between the two peoples Swedes and Swiss: it is entirely the imperfection of our Western alphabet, not at all that of the spoken sounds or the ideographs, that is at fault.

The Yellow River, running from north to south, not only roughly separated from each other these two Tartar-Chinese buffer states in the north-west, but the same Yellow River, flowing east, and its tributary, the River Wei, also formed a rough boundary between the two states of Tsin and Ts'in (together) to the north, and the innumerable petty but ancient Chinese principalities surrounding the imperial domain to the south. These principalities or settlements were scattered about among the head-waters of the Han River and the Hwai River systems, and their manifest destiny, if they needed expansion, clearly drove them further southwards, following the courses of all these head-waters, towards the Yang- tsz Kiang. But, more than that, the Yellow River, after thus flowing east for several hundred miles, turned sharp north in long. 114ø E., as already explained, and thence to the north-east formed a second rough boundary between Tsin and nearly all the remaining orthodox Chinese states. Tsin's chief task was thus to absorb into its administrative system all the Tartar raiders that ventured south to the Yellow River.

But there was a third northern state engaged in the task of keeping back the Tartar tribes, and in developing a civilization of its own-based largely, of course, upon Chinese principles, but modified so as to meet local exigencies. This was the state of Ts'i, enclosed between the Yellow River to the west and the sea to the east, but extending much farther north than the boundaries of modern Shan Tung province, if, indeed, the embouchure of the Yellow River, near modern Tientsin, did not form its northern boundary; but the promontory or peninsula, as well as all the coast, was still in the hands of "barbarian" tribes (now long since civilized and assimilated), of which for many centuries past no separate trace has remained. We have no means of judging now whether these "barbarians" were uncultured, close kinsmen of the orthodox Chinese; or remote kinsmen; or quite foreign. When the Chou principality received an invitation by acclamation to conquer and administer China in 1122, an obscure political worthy from these eastern parts placed his services as adviser and organizer at the command of the new Chou Emperor, in return for which important help he received the fief of Ts'i. Although obscure, this man traced his descent back to the times when (2300 B.C.) his ancestors received fiefs from the most ancient Emperors. From that time down to the year 1122 B.C., and onwards to the events of 771 B.C., nothing much beyond the fact of the Chou infeoffment is recorded; but after the Emperor had been killed by the Tartar- Tibetans, this state of Ts'i also began to grow restive; and the seventh century before Christ opens with the significant statement that "Ts'in, Tsin, and Ts'i, now begin to be powerful states." Of the three, Tsin alone bore the imperial Chou clan-name of Ki.

North of the Yellow River, where it then entered the sea near the modern treaty-port of Tientsin, there was yet another great vassal state, called Yen, which had been given by the founders of the Chou dynasty to a very distinguished blood relative and faithful supporter: this noble prince has been immortalized in beautiful language on account of the rigid justice of his decisions given under the shade of an apple-tree: it was the practice in those days to render into popular song the chief events of the times, and it is not improbable, indeed, that this Saga literature was the only popular record of the past, until, as already hinted, after 827 B.C., writing became simplified and thus more diffused, instead of being confined to solemn manifestoes and commandments cast or carved on bronze or stone.

"Oh! woodman, spare that tree,

Touch not a single bough,

His wisdom lingers now."

The words, singularly like those of our own well-known song, are known to every Chinese school-boy, and with hundreds, even thousands, of other similar songs, which used to be daily quoted as precedents by the statesmen of that primitive period in their political intercourse with each other, were later pruned, purified, and collated by Confucius, until at last they received classical rank in the "Book of Odes" or the "Classic of Poetry," containing a mere tenth part of the old "Odes" as they used to be passed from mouth to ear.

Even less is known of the early days of Yen than is known of Ts'in, Tsin, and Ts'i; there is not even a vague tradition to suggest who ruled it, or what sort of a place it was, before the Chou prince was sent there; all that is anywhere recorded is that it was a very small, poor, and feeble region, dovetailed in between Tsin and Ts'i, and exposed north to the harassing attacks of savages and Coreans (i.e. tribes afterwards enumerated as forming part of Corea when the name of Corea became known). The mysterious region is only mentioned here at all on account of its distinguished origin, in order to show that the Chinese cultivators had from the very earliest times apparently succeeded in keeping the bulk of the Tartars to the left bank of the Yellow River all the way from the Desert to the sea; because later on (350 B.C.) Yen actually did become a powerful state; and finally, because if any very early notions concerning Corea and Japanese islands had ever crept vaguely into China at all, it must have been through this state of Yen, which was coterminous with Liao Tung and Manchuria. The great point to remember is, the extensive territory between the Great Wall and the Yellow River then lay almost entirely beyond the pale of ancient China, and it was only when Ts'in, Tsin, Ts'i, and Yen had to look elsewhere than to the Emperor for protection from Tartar inroads that the centre of political gravity was changed once and for ever from the centre of China to the north.

We know nothing of the precise causes which conduced to unusual Tartar activity at the dawn of Chinese true history: in the absence of any Tartar knowledge of writing, it seems impossible now that we ever can know it. Still less are we in a position to speculate profitably how far the movements on the Chinese frontier, in 800-600 B.C., may be connected with similar restlessness on the Persian and Greek frontiers, of which, again, we know nothing very illuminating or specific. It is certain that the Chinese had no conception of a Tartar empire, or of a coherent monarchy, under the vigorous dominion of a great military genius, until at least five centuries after the Tartars, killed a Chinese Emperor in battle as related (771 B.C.). It is even uncertain what were the main race distinctions of the nomad aggregations, loosely styled by us "Tartars," for the simple reason that the ambiguous Chinese terminology does not enable us to select a more specific word. Nevertheless, the Chinese do make certain distinctions; and, as what remains of aboriginal populations in the north, south, east, and west of China points strongly to the probability of populations in the main occupying the same sites that they did 3000 years ago (unless where specific facts point to a contrary conclusion), we may fairly assume that the distribution was then very much as now-beginning from the east, (1) Japanese, (2) Corean, (3) Tungusic, (4) Mongol-Turkish, (5) Turkish, (6) Turkish-Tibetan, and Mongol-Tibetan (or Mongol-Turkoid Tibetan), (7) Tibetan. The Chinese use four terms to express these relative quantities, which may be called X, Y, Z, and A. The term "X," pure and simple, never under any circumstances refers to any but Tibetans (of whom at this time the Chinese had no recorded knowledge whatever except by name); but "X + Y" also refers to tribes in Tibetan regions. The term "West Y" seems to mean Tibetan-Tartars, and the term "North Y" seems to mean Mongoloid- Tunguses. There is a third Y term, "Dog Y," evidently meaning Tartars of some kind, and not Tibetans of any sort. The term "Z" never refers to Tibetans, pure or mixed, but "Y + Z" loosely refers to Turks, Mongols, and Tunguses. The terms "Red Z", "White Z," and "North Z" seem to indicate Turks; and what is more, these colour distinctions—probably of clothing or head-gear-continue to quite modern times, and always in connection with Turks or Mongol- Turks. The fourth term "A" never occurs before the third century before Christ, and refers to all Tartars, Coreans, etc.; but not to Tibetans: it need not, therefore, be discussed at present. The modern province of Sz Ch'wan was absolutely unknown even by name; but several centuries later, as we shall shortly see, it turned out to be a state of considerable magnitude, with quite a little imperial history of its own: probably it was with this unknown state that the bulk of the Tibetans tried conclusions, if they tried them with China at all.

Be that as it may, the present wish is to make clear that at the first great turning-point in genuine Chinese history the whole of north and west China was in the hands of totally unknown powers, who completely shut in the Middle Kingdom; who only manifested themselves at all in the shape of occasional bodies of raiders; and who, if they had any knowledge, direct or indirect, of India, Tibet, Turkestan, Siberia, Persia, etc., kept it strictly to themselves, and in any case were incapable of communicating it in writing to the frontier Chinese populations of the four buffer states above enumerated.


But the collapse of the imperial power in 771 B.C. led to restlessness in the south as well as in the north, north-western, and north-eastern regions: except for a few Chinese adventurers and colonists, these were exclusively inhabited by nomad Tartars, and perhaps some Tibetans, destitute of fixed residences, cities, and towns; ignorant of cultivation, agriculture, and letters; and roving about from pasture to pasture with their flocks and herds, finding excitement and diversion chiefly in periodical raids upon their more settled southern and western neighbours.

The only country south of the federated Chinese princes in Ho Nan province (as we now call it) was the "Jungle" or "Thicket," a term which vaguely designated the lower waters of the Han River system, much as, with ourselves, the "Lowlands" or the "Netherlands" did, and still does, designate the outlying marches of the English and German communities. "Jungle" is still the elegant literary name for Hu Peh, just as Ts'in, Tsin, and Ts'i are for Shen Si, Shan Si, and Shan Tung. The King of the Jungle, like the Warden of the Western Marches, traced his descent far back to the same ancient monarchs whose blood ran also in the veins of the imperial house of Chou; and moreover this Jungle King's ancestors had served the founders of the Chou dynasty in 1150 B.C., whilst they were still hesitating whether to accept the call to empire: hence in later times (530 B.C.) the King made it a grievance that his family had not received from the founder of the Chou dynasty presents symbolical of equality of birth, as had the Tsin and Lu (South Shan Tung) houses. If any tribes, south, south-east, or south-west of this vague Jungle, whose administrative centre at first lay within a hundred miles' radius of the modern treaty-port of Ich'ang, were in any way known to Central China, or were affected by orthodox Chinese civilization, it was and must have been entirely through this kingdom of the Jungle, and in a second-hand or indirect way. The Jungle was as much a buffer to the south as Ts'in was to the north-west, Tsin to the north, and Ts'i to the north-east. The bulk of the population was in one sense non- Chinese; that is, it was probably a mixture of the many uncivilized mountain tribes (all speaking monosyllabic and tonic dialects like the Chinese) who still survive in every one of the provinces south of the Yang-tsz Kiang; but the ruling caste, whose administrative centre lay to the north of these tribes, though affected by the grossness of their barbarous surroundings, were manifestly more or less orthodox Chinese in origin and sympathy, and, even at this early period (771 B.C.), possessed a considerable culture, a knowledge of Chinese script, and a general capacity to live a settled economical existence. As far back as 880 B.C. the King of the Jungle is recorded to have governed or conciliated the populations between the Han and the Yang-tsz Rivers; but, though he arrogated to himself for a time the title of "Emperor" or "King" in his own dominions, he confessed himself to be a barbarian, and disclaimed any share in the honorific system of titles, living or posthumous, having vogue in China, reserving it for his successors to assert higher rights when they should feel strong enough. Like an eastern Charlemagne, he divided his empire between his three sons; and this empire, which gradually extended all along the Yang-tsz down to its mouths, may have included in one of its three subdivisions a part at least of the Annamese race, as will be suggested more in detail anon.

The first really historical king, who once more arrogated the supreme title in 704 B.C., took advantage of imperial weakness to extend his conquests not only to the south but to the north of the River Han, attacking petty Chinese principalities, and boldly claiming recognition by the Emperor of equality in title. "I am a barbarian," said he, "and I will avail myself of the dissensions among the federal princes to inspect Chinese ways for myself." The Emperor displayed some irritation at this claim of equal rank, but the King retorted by referring to the services rendered by his (the King's) ancestor, some five hundred years earlier, to the Emperor's ancestor, virtual founder of the Chou dynasty. In 689 B.C. the next king moved his capital from its old site above the Ich'ang gorges to the commanding central situation now known as King-thou Fu, just above the treaty-port of Sha-shi': this place historically continues the use of the old word Jungle (King), and has been all through the present Manchu dynasty (1644-1908) the military residence of a Tartar-General with a Banner garrison; that is, a garrison of privileged Tartar soldiers living in cantonments, and exempt from the ordinary laws, or, at least, the application of them. It is only in 684 B.C. that the Jungle state is first honoured with mention in Confucius' history: it was, indeed, impossible then to ignore its existence, because, for the first time in the annals of China, Chinese federal princes between the Han River and the westernmost head-waters of the Hwai River had been deliberately annexed by these Jungle "barbarians." History for the next 450 years from this date consists mainly of the intricate narration how Ts'in, Tsin, Ts'i, and the Jungle struggled, first for hegemony, and finally for the possession of all China, The Jungle was now called Ts'u.


Having now shown, as shortly and as intelligibly as we can, how the germs of Chinese development were sown at the dawn of true history, let us proceed to examine how far that history, as it has come down to us, contains within it testimony to its own truth. We shall revert to the description of wars and ambitions in due course; but, as so obscure a subject as early Chinese civilization is only palatable to most Western readers in small, varied, and sugared doses, we shall for the moment vary the nourishment offered, and say a few words upon eclipses.

Confucius, whose bald "Spring and Autumn" annals, as expanded by three separate commentators (one a junior contemporary of himself), is really the chief authority for the period 722-468 B.C., was born on the 20th day after the eclipse of the sun which took place in the 10th month of 552 B.C., or the 27th of the 8th moon as worked out to-day (for 1908 this means the 22nd September). Confucius himself records thirty-seven eclipses of the sun between 720 and 481, those of 709, 601, and 549 being total. Of course, as Confucius primarily recorded the eclipses as seen from his own petty vassal state of Lu in Shan Tung province (lat. 35" 40' N., long, 117" E.), any one endeavouring to identify these eclipses, and to compare them with Julian or Gregorian dates, must, in making the necessary calculations, bear this important fact in mind. It so happens that nearly one-third of Confucius' thirty-seven eclipses are recorded as having taken place between the two total eclipses of 601 and 549. This being so, I referred the list to an obliging officer attached to the Royal Observatory, who has kindly furnished me with the following comparative list:-


B.C. 601, 7th moon.—-600, September 20.

" 599, 4th " —-598, March 5.

" 592, 6th " —-591, April 17.

" 575, 6th " —-574, May 9.

" 574, 12th " —-573, October 22.

" 559, 2nd " —-558, January 14.

" 558, 8th " —-557, June 29.

" 553, 10th " —-552, August 31.

" 552, 9th "

" 552, 10th " —-551, August 20.

" 550, 2nd " —-549, January 5.

" 549, 7th " —-548, April 19.

It will be observed that there is no Oppolzer's date to compare with the first of the two eclipses of 552; this is because I omitted to notice that there had been recorded in the "Springs and Autumns" two so close together, and therefore I did not include it in the list sent to the Observatory; but with the exception of the total eclipse of 601, all the other eclipses, so far as days of the moon and month go, are as consistent with each other as are modern Chinese dates with European (Julian) dates. As regards the year, Oppolzer's dates are the "astronomical" dates, that is, the astronomical year—x is the same as the year (x + 1) B.C.; or, in other words, the year of Christ's birth is, for certain astronomical exactitude purposes, interpolated between the years 1 B.C. and A.D. 1, as we vulgarly compute them: that is to say, the eclipses of the sun recorded 2,400 years ago by Confucius, from notes and annals preserved in his native state's archives as far back as 700 B.C., are found to be almost without exception fairly correct, with a uniform "error" of about one month, despite the fact that attempts were made by the First August Emperor to destroy all historical literature in 213 B.C. This being so in the matter of a dozen eclipses, there still remain two dozen for specialists to experiment upon, not to mention comets and other celestial phenomena. From this collateral evidence, imperfect though it be, we are reasonably entitled to assume that the three expanded versions of Confucius' history are trustworthy, or at the very least written in the best of faith.

Just as our mathematicians find no difficulty either in foretelling or retrospecting eclipses to a minute, so does the ancient "sixty" cycle, which the Chinese have from time immemorial used for computing or noting days and years, enable them, or for the matter of that ourselves, to calculate back unerringly any desired day. Thus, suppose the 1st January, 1908, is the 37th day of the perpetual cycle of sixty days; then, if the Chinese historians say that an eclipse took place on the first day of the new moon, which began the 9th Chinese month of the year corresponding in the main to our 800 B.C., and that the 1st day of the moon was also the 37th day of the sixty-day perpetual cycle, all we have to do is to take roughly six cycles for each year, six thousand cycles for each thousand years, allowing at the same time two extra cycles every third year for intercalary moons, and then dealing with the fractions or balance of days. If our calculation does not bring the two 37th cyclic days together accurately, we must of course go into the question of how and when the Chinese calendars were altered, a subject that will be treated of in a subsequent chapter. It must be remembered that there can never be any question of so much as a whole year being involved in the balance of error; for, with the Chinese as with us, one year, whenever modified, always means that space of time, however irregularly computed at each end of it, within which two solstices and two equinoxes have taken place, Voltaire, in the article on "China" of his Universal Dictionary, remarks that "of 32 ancient Chinese eclipses, 28 have been identified by Western mathematicians"; and M. Edouard Chavannes, who has given a great deal of time and labour to working out the mysteries of the Chinese calendar, does not hesitate to claim accuracy to the very day (29th August) for the eclipse of the sun recorded in the Book of Odes (as re-edited by Confucius) as having taken place on the 28th cyclic day of the beginning of the both moon in 776 B.C. (i.e. of—775). This eclipse is of course not recorded in the "Springs and Autumns," which begins with the year 722 B.C.

The Chou dynasty, which came into power in 1122, for the second time put back the year a month because the calendar was getting confused. That is, they made what we should call January begin the legal year instead of February; or the still more ancient March; but some of the vassals either used computations of their own, or kept up those handed down by the two dynasties previous to that of Chou: hence in the Confucian histories, as expanded, there are frequent discrepancies in consequence of events apparently copied from the records of one vassal state having been reported to the historian of a second vassal state without steps having been taken to adjust the different new years.


As the struggle for pre-eminency which we are about to describe involved bloodthirsty combats extending almost uninterruptedly over five centuries, it may be of interest to inquire of what consisted the paraphernalia of warfare in those days. It appears that among the Chinese federal princes, who, as we have seen, only occupied in the main the flat country on the right bank of the Yellow River, war-chariots were invariably used, which is the more remarkable in that after the Conquest in 220 B.C. of China by the First August Emperor of Ts'in, and down to this day, war-chariots have scarcely ever once been even named, at least as having been marshalled in serious battle array. The Emperor alone was supposed in true feudal times to possess a force of 10,000 chariots, and even now a "10,000-chariot" state is the diplomatic expression for "a great power," "a power of the first rank," or "an empire." No vassal was entitled to more than 1000 war-chariots. In the year 632 B.C., when Tsin inflicted a great defeat upon its chief rival Ts'u, the former power had 700 chariots in the field. In 589 B.C. the same country, with 800 chariots included in its forces, marched across the Yellow River and defeated the state of Ts'i, its rival to the east. Again in 632 Tsin offered to the Emperor 100 chariots just captured from Ts'u, and in 613 sent 800 chariots to the assistance of a dethroned Emperor. The best were made of leather, and we may assume from this that the wooden ones found it very difficult to get safely over rough ground, for in a celebrated treaty of peace of 589 B.C. between the two rival states Tsin and Ts'i, the victor, lying to the west, imposed a condition that "your ploughed furrows shall in future run east and west instead of north and south," meaning that "no systematic obstacles shall in future be placed in the way of our invading chariots."

One of the features in many of the vassal states was the growth of great families, whose private power was very apt to constrain the wishes of the reigning duke, count, or baron. Thus in the year 537, when the King of Ts'u was meditating a treacherous attack upon Tsin, he was warned that "there were many magnates at the behest of the ruler of Tsin, each of whom was equal to placing 100 war-chariots in the field." So much a matter of course was it to use chariots in war, that in the year 572, when the rival great powers of Ts'u and Tsin were contesting for suzerainty over one of the purely Chinese principalities in the modern Ho Nan province, it was considered quite a remarkable fact that this principality in taking the side of Ts'u brought no chariots with the forces led against Tsin. In 541 a refugee prince of Ts'u, seeking asylum in Tsin, only brought five chariots with him, on which the ruler, ashamed as host of such a poor display, at once assigned him revenue sufficient for the maintenance of 100 individuals. It so happened that at the same time there arrived in Tsin a refugee prince from Ts'in, bringing with him 1000 carts, all heavily laden. On another occasion the prince (not a ruler) of a neighbouring state, on visiting the ruler of another, brings with him as presents an eight-horsed chariot for the reigning prince, a six-horsed conveyance for the premier, a four-horsed carriage for a very distinguished minister in the suite, and a two-horsed cart for a minor member of the mission.

Besides the heavy war-chariots, there were also rather more comfortable and lighter conveyances: in one case two generals are spoken of ironically because they went to the front playing the banjo in a light cart, whilst their colleague from another state— the very state they were assisting—was roughing it in a war- chariot. These latter seem to have connoted, for military organization purposes, a strength of 75 men each, and four horses; to wit, three heavily armed men or cuirassiers in the chariot itself, and 72 foot-soldiers. At least in the case of Tsin, a force of 37,500 men, which in the year 613 boldly marched off three hundred or more English miles upon an eastern expedition, is so described. On the other hand, thirty years later, a small Ts'u force is said to have had 125 men attached to each chariot, while the Emperor's chariots are stated to have had 100 men assigned to each. In the year 627 a celebrated battle was fought between the rival powers of Ts'in and Tsin, in which the former was utterly routed; "not a man nor a wheel of the whole army ever got back." War-chariots are mentioned as having been in use at least as far back as 1797 B.C. by the Tartar-affected ancestors of the Chou dynasty, nearly 700 years before they themselves came to the imperial power. The territory north of the River Wei, inhabited by them, is all yellow loess, deeply furrowed by the stream in question, and by its tributaries: there is no apparent reason to suppose that the gigantic cart-houses used by the Tartars, even to this day, had any historical connection with the swift war- chariots of the Chinese.

Little, if anything, is said of conveying troops by boat in any of the above-mentioned countries north of the Yang-tsz River. None of the rivers in Shen Si are navigable, even now, for any considerable stretches, and the Yellow River itself has its strict limitations. Later on, when the King of Ts'u's possessions along the sea coast, embracing the delta of the Yang-tsz, revolted from his suzerainty and began (as we shall relate in due course) to take an active part in orthodox Chinese affairs, boats and gigantic canal works were introduced by the hitherto totally unknown or totally forgotten coast powers; and it is probably owing to this innovation that war-chariots suddenly disappeared from use, and that even in the north of China boat expeditions became the rule, as indeed was certainly the case after the third century B.C.

Some idea of the limited population of very ancient China may be gained from a consideration of the oldest army computations. The Emperor was supposed to have six brigades, the larger vassals three, the lesser two, and the small ones one; but owing to the loose way in which a Shi, or regiment of 2,500 men, and a Kun, or brigade of 12,500 men, are alternately spoken of, the Chinese commentators themselves are rather at a loss to estimate how matters really stood after the collapse of the Emperor in 771: but though at much later dates enormous armies, counting up to half a million men on each side, stubbornly contended for mastery, at the period of which we speak there is no reason to believe that any state, least of all the imperial reserve, ever put more than 1000 chariots, or say, 75,000 men, into the field on any one expedition.

Flags seem to have been in use very much as in the West. The founder of the Chou dynasty marched to the conquest of China carrying, or having carried for him, a yellow axe in the left, and a white flag in the right hand. In 660 one of the minor federal princes was crushed because he did not lower his standard in time; nearly a century later, this precedent was quoted to another federal prince when hard-pressed, in consequence of which a sub- officer "rolled up his master's standard and put it in its sheath." In 645 "the cavaliers under the ruler's flag "—defined to mean his body-guard—were surrounded by the enemy.

During the fifth century B.C., when the coast provinces, having separated from the Ts'u suzerainty, were asserting their equality with the orthodox Chinese princes, and two rival "barbarian" armies were contending for the Shanghai region, one royal scion was indignant when he saw the enemy advance "with the flag captured in the last battle from his own father the general." Flags were used, not only to signal movements of troops during the course of battle, but also in the great hunts or battues which were arranged in peace times, not merely for sport, but also in order to prepare soldiers for a military life.

For victories over the Tartars in 623, the Emperor presented the ruler of Ts'in with a metal drum; and it seems that sacrificing to the regimental drum before a fight was a very ancient custom, which has been carried down to the present day. In 1900, during the "Boxer" troubles, General (now Viceroy) Yiian Shi-k'ai is reported to have sacrificed several condemned criminals to his drum before setting out upon his march.