Ancient China Simplified
by Edward Harper Parker
Public Domain Books
Chapter XIV - More on Protectors
The Five Tyrants, or Protectors, are usually considered to be the five personages we have mentioned; to wit, in order of succession, the Marquess of Ts’i (679-643), under whose reign the great economist, statesman, and philosopher Kwan-tsz raised this far eastern part of China to a hitherto unheard-of pitch of material prosperity; the Marquess of Tsin (632-628), a romantic prince, more Turkish than Chinese, who was the first vassal prince openly to treat the Emperor as a puppet; the Duke of Sung (died 637), representing the imperial Shang dynasty ejected by the Chou family in 1122, whose ridiculous chivalry failed, however, to secure him the effective support of the other Chinese princes; the Earl of Ts’in (died 621) who was, as we see, quietly creating a great Tartar dominion, and assimilating it to Chinese ways in the west; and the King of Ts’u (died 591), who, besides taking his place amongst the recognized federal princes, and annexing innumerable petty Chinese principalities in the Han River and Hwai River basins, had been for several generations quietly extending his dominions at the expense of what we now call the provinces of Sz Ch’wan, Kiang Si, Hu Kwang-perhaps even Yun Nan and Kwei Chou; Certainly Kiang Su and Cheh Kiang, and possibly in a loose way the coast regions of modern Fuh Kien and the Two Kwang; but it cannot be too often repeated that if any thing intimate was known of the Yang-tsz basin, it was only Ts’u (in its double character of independent local empire as well as Chinese federal prince) that knew, or could have known, any thing about it; just as, if any thing specific was known of the Far West, Turkestan, the Tarim valley, and the Desert, it was only Ts’in (in its double character of independent Tartar empire as well as Chinese federal prince) that knew, or could know, any thing about them. Ts’i and Tsin were also Tartar powers, at least in the sense that they knew how to keep off the particular Tartars known to them, and how to make friendly alliances with them, thus availing themselves, on the one hand, of Tartar virility, and faithful on the other to orthodox Chinese culture. So that, with the exception of the pedantic Duke of Sung, who was summarily snuffed out after a year or two of brief light by the lusty King of Ts’u, all the nominal Five Protectors of China were either half-barbarian rulers or had passed through the crucible of barbarian ordeals. Finally, so vague were the claims and services of Sung, Ts’u, and Ts’in, from a protector point of view, that for the purposes of this work, we only really recognize two, the First Protector (of Ts’i) and, after a struggle, the Second Protector (of Tsin): at most a third,–Ts’u.
But although the Chinese historians thus loosely confine the Five- Protector period to less than a century of time, it is a fact that Ts’u and Tsin went on obstinately struggling for the hegemony, or for practical predominance, for at least another 200 years; besides, Ts’in, Ts’u, and Sung were never formally nominated by the Emperor as Protectors, nor were they ever accepted as such by the Chinese federal princes in the permanent and definite way that Ts’i and Tsin had been and were accepted. Moreover, the barbarian states of Wu and Yueeh each in turn acted very effectively as Protector, and are never included in the Five-Great-Power series. The fact is, the Chinese have never grasped the idea of principles in history: their annals are mere diaries of events; and when once an apparently definite “period” is named by an annalist, they go on using it, quite regardless of its inconsistency when confronted with facts adverse to a logical acceptance of it.
The situation was this: Tsin and Ts’u were at perpetual loggerheads about the small Chinese states that lay between them, more especially about the state of Cheng, which, though small, was of quite recent imperial stock, and was, moreover, well supplied with brains. Tsin and Ts’in were at perpetual loggerheads about the old Tsin possessions on the west bank of the Yellow River, which, running from the north to the south, lay between them; and about their rival claims to influence the various nomadic Tartar tribes living along both the banks, Tsin and Ts’i were often engaged in disputes about Lu, Wei, and other orthodox states situated in the Lower Yellow River valley running from the west to the east and north-east; also in questions concerning eastern barbarian states inhabiting the whole coast region, and concerning the petty Chinese states which had degenerated, and whose manners savoured of barbarian ways. Thus Ts’in and Ts’u, and also to some extent Ts’i and Ts’u, had a regular tendency to ally themselves against Tsin’s flanks, and it was therefore always Tsin’s policy as the “middle man” to obstruct communications between Ts’in and Ts’u, and between Ts’i and Ts’u. In 580 Tsin devised a means of playing off a similar flanking game upon Ts’u: negotiations were opened with Wu, which completely barbarous state only begins to appear in history at all at about this period, all the kings having manifestly phonetic barbarian names, which mean absolutely nothing (beyond conveying the sound) as expressed in Chinese, Wu was taught the art of war, as we have seen, by (page 34) a Ts’u traitor who had fled to Tsin and taken service there; and the King of Wu soon made things so uncomfortable for Ts’u that the latter in turn tried by every means to block the way between Tsin and Wu. Within a single generation Wu was so civilized that one of the royal princes was sent the rounds of the Chinese states as special ambassador, charged, under the convenient cloak of seeking for civilization, ritual, and music, with the duty of acquiring political and strategical knowledge. This prince so favourably impressed the orthodox statesmen of Ts’i, Lu, Tsin, and Wei (the ruling family of this state, like that of Sung, was, until it revolted in 1106 B.C. against the new Chou dynasty, of Shang dynasty origin, and the Yellow River ran through it northwards), that he was everywhere deferentially received as an equal: his tomb is still in existence, about ten miles from the treaty- port of Chinkiang, and the inscription upon it, in ancient characters, was written by Confucius himself, who, though a boy of eight when the Wu prince visited Lu in 544, may well have seen the prince in the flesh elsewhere, for the latter lived to prevent a war with Ts’u in 485; i.e. he lived to within six years of Confucius’ death: he is known, too, to have visited Tsin on a spying mission in 515 B.C. The original descent of the first voluntarily barbarous Wu princes from the same grandfather as the Chou emperors would afford ample basis for the full recognition of a Wu prince by the orthodox as their equal, especially when his manners were softened by rites and music. It was like an oriental prince being feted and invested in Europe, so long as he should conform to the conventional dress and mannerisms of “society.”
Just as Wu had been quietly submissive to Ts’u until the opportunity came to revolt, so did the still more barbarous state of Yueh, lying to the south-east of and tributary to Wu as her mesne lord, eagerly seize the opportunity of attacking Wu when the common suzerain, Ts’u, required it. The wars of Wu and Yueh are almost entirely naval, and, so far as the last-named state is concerned, it is never reported as having used war-chariots at all. Wu adopted the Chinese chariot as rapidly as it had re- adopted the Chinese civilization, abandoned by the first colonist princes in 1200 B.C.; but of course these chariots were only for war in China, on the flat Chinese plains; they were totally impracticable in mountainous countries, except along the main routes, and useless (as Major Bruce shows) in regions cut up by gulleys; even now no one ever sees a two-wheeled vehicle in the Shanghai-Ningpo region. It must, therefore, always be remembered that Wu, though barbarous in its population, was, in its origin as an organized system of rule, a colony created by certain ancestors of the founder of the Chou dynasty, who had voluntarily gone off to carve out an appanage in the Jungle; i.e. in the vague unknown dominion later called Ts’u, of which dominion all coast regions were a part, so far as they could be reduced to submission. This gave the Kings of Wu, though barbarian, a pretext for claiming equality with, and even seniority over Tsin, the first Chou-born prince of which was junior in descent to most of the other enfeoffed vassals of the imperial clan-name. In 502 Wu armies even threatened the northern state of Ts’i, and asserted in China generally a brief authority akin to that of Protector. Ts’i was obliged to buy itself off by marrying a princess of the blood to the heir-apparent of Wu, an act which two centuries later excited the disgust of the philosopher Mencius. The great Ts’i statesman and writer Yen-tsz, whom we have already mentioned more than once, died in 500, and earlier in that year Confucius had become chief counsellor of Lu, which state, on account of Confucius’ skill as a diplomat, nearly obtained the Protectorate. It was owing to the fear of this that the assassination of the Lu prince was attempted that year, as narrated in Chapter IX. In order to understand how Wu succeeded in reaching Lu and Ts’i, it must be recollected that the river Sz, which still runs from east to west past Confucius’s birthplace, and now simply feeds the Grand Canal, then flowed south-east along the line of the present canal and entered the Hwai River near Sue-chou. Moreover, there was at times boat- communication between the Sz and the Yellow River, though the precise channel is not now known. Consequently, the Wu fleets had no difficulty in sailing northwards first by sea and then up the Hwai and Sz Rivers. Besides, in 485, the King of Wu began what we now call the Grand Canal by joining as a beginning the Yang-tsz River with the Hwai River, and then carrying the canal beyond the Hwai to the state of Sung, which state was then disputing with Lu the possession of territory on the east bank of the Sz, whilst Ts’u was pushing her annexations up to the west bank of the same river. There were in all twelve minor orthodox states between the Sz and the Hwai. In 482 the all-powerful King of Wu held a genuine durbar as Protector, at a place in modern Ho Nan province, north of the Yellow River as it now runs, but at that time a good distance to the south-east of it. This is one of the most celebrated meetings in Chinese history, partly because Wu successfully asserted political pre-eminence over Tsin; partly because Confucius falsifies the true facts out of shame (as we have seen he did when Ts’u similarly seized the first place over Tsin); and partly owing to the shrewd diplomacy of the King of Wu, who had learnt by express messenger that the King of Ytieh was marching on his capital, and who had the difficult double task to accomplish of carrying out a “bluff,” and operating a retreat without showing his weak hand to either side, or losing his army exposed between two foes.
In 473, after long and desperate fighting, Wu was, however, at last annihilated by Yiieh, which state was now unanimously voted Protector, Vae victis! The Yueh capital was promptly removed from near the modern Shao-hing (west of Ningpo) far away north to what is now practically the German colony of Kiao Chou; but, though a maritime power of very great-strength, Yiieh never succeeded in establishing any real land influence in the Hwai Valley. During her short protectorate she rectified the River Sz question by forcing Sung to make over to Lu the land on the east bank of the River Sz.