Ancient China Simplified
by Edward Harper Parker
Public Domain Books
Chapter XV - State Intercourse
Whatever may be the reason why details of interstate movement are lacking up to 842 B.C., it is certain that, from the date of the Emperor’s flight eastwards in 771, the utmost activity prevailed between state and state within the narrow area to which, as we have seen, the federated Chinese empire was confined. Confucius’ history, covering the 250-year period subsequent to 722, consists largely of statements that this duke visited that country, or returned from it, or drew up a treaty with it, or negotiated a marriage with it. “Society,” in a political sense, consisted of the four great powers, Ts’in, Tsin, Ts’i, and Ts’u, surrounding the purely Chinese enclave; and of the innumerable petty Chinese states, mostly of noble and ancient lineage, only half a dozen of them of any size, which formed the enclave in question, and were surrounded by Ts’in, Tsin, Ts’i, and Ts’u, to the west, north, east, and south. Secondary states in extent and in military power, like Lu, CHENG, and Wei, whilst having orthodox and in some cases barbarian sub-vassals of their own, were themselves, if not vassals to, at all events under the predominant influence of, one or the other of the four great powers. Thus Lu was at first nearly always a handmaid of Ts’i, but later fell under the influence of Tsin, Ts’u, and Wu; Cheng always coquetted between Tsin and Ts’u, not out of love for either, but in order to protect her own independence; and so on with the rest. If we inquire what a really small state meant in those days, the answer is that the modern walled city, with its district of several hundred square miles lying around it, was (and usually still is) the equivalent of the ancient principality; and proof of that lies in the fact that one of the literary designations of what we now term a “district magistrate” is still “city marquess.” Another proof is that in ancient times “your state” was a recognized way of saying “your capital town"; and “my poor town” was the polite way of saying “our country"; both expressions still used in elegant diplomatic composition.
This being so, and it having besides been the practice for a visiting duke always to take along with him a “minister in attendance,” small wonder that prominent Chinese statesmen from the orthodox states were all personal friends, or at least correspondents and acquaintances, who had thus frequent opportunity of comparing political notes. To this day there are no serious dialect differences whatever in the ancient central area described in the first Chapter, nor is there any reason to suppose that the statesmen and scholars who thus often met in conclave had any difficulty in making themselves mutually understood. The “dialects"’ of which we hear so much in modern times (which, none the less, are all of them pure Chinese, except that the syllables differ, just as coeur, cuore, and corazon, coracao, differ from cor), all belong to the southern coasts, which were practically unknown to imperial China in Confucius’ time. The Chinese word which we translate “mandarin” also means “public” or “common,” and “mandarin dialect” really means “current” or “common speech," such as is, and was, spoken with no very serious modifications all over the enclave; and also in those parts of Ts’in, Tsin, Ts’i, and Ts’u, which immediately impinged upon the enclave, in the ratio of their proximity. Finally, Shen Si, Shan Si, Shan Tung, and Hu Kwang are still called Ts’in, Tsin, Ts’i, and Ts’u in high-class official correspondence; and so with all other place-names. China has never lost touch with antiquity.
There is record for nearly every thing: the only difficulty is to separate what is relevant from what is irrelevant in the mass of confused data.
Another matter must be considered. Although the Chinese never had a caste system in the Hindoo sense, there is, as we have stated once before, every reason to believe that the ruling classes and the educated classes were nearly all nobles, in the sense that they were all lineal or branch descendants, whether by first- class wife or by concubine, of either the ruling dynastic family or of some previous imperial dynastic family. Some families were by custom destined for hereditary ministers, others for hereditary envoys, others again for hereditary soldiers; not, it is true, by strict rule, but because the ancient social idea favoured the descent of office, or land, or trade, or craft from father to son. This, indeed, was part of the celebrated Kwan-tsz’s economic philosophy. Thus generation after generation of statesmen and scholars kept in steady touch with one another, exactly as our modern scientists of the first rank, each as a link, form an unbroken intimate chain from Newton down to Lord Kelvin, outside which pale the ordinary layman stands a comparative stranger to the arcana within.
Kwan-tsz, the statesman-philosopher of Ts’i, and in a sense the founder of Chinese economic science, was himself a scion of the imperial Chou clan; every writer on political economy subsequent to 643 B.C. quotes his writings, precisely as every European philosophical writer cites Bacon. Quite a galaxy of brilliant statesmen and writers, a century after Kwan-tsz, shed lustre upon the Confucian age (550-480), and nearly all of them were personal friends either of Confucius or of each other, or of both. Thus Tsz-ch’an of CHENG, senior to Confucius, but beloved and admired by him, was son of a reigning duke, and a prince of the ducal CHENG family, which again was descended from a son of the Emperor who fled in 842 B.C.
If Tsz-ch’an had written works on philosophy and politics, it is possible that he might have been China’s greatest man in the place of Confucius; for he based his ideas of government, as did Confucius, who probably copied much from him, entirely upon “fitting conduct,” or “natural propriety"; in addition to which he was a great lawyer, entirely free from superstition and hypocrisy; a kind, just, and considerate ruler; a consummate diplomat; and a bold, original statesman, economist, and administrator. The anecdotes and sayings of Tsz-ch’an are as numerous and as practical as those about Julius Caesar or Marcus Aurelius.
Another great pillar of the state praised by Confucius was Shuh Hiang of Tsin, whose reputation as a sort of Chinese Cicero is not far below that of Tsz-ch’an. He belonged to one of the great private families of Tsin, of whom it was said in Ts’u that “any of them could bring 100 war-chariots into the field.” Nothing could be more interesting than the interviews and letters (see Appendix No. 1) between these two friends and their colleagues of Ts’i, Ts’u, Lu, and Sung.
Yen-tsz of Ts’i almost ranks with Kwan-tsz as an administrator, philosopher, economist, author, and statesman. Confucius has a good word for him too, though Yen-tsz’s own opinion of Confucius’ merits was by no means so high. The two men had to “spar” with each other behind their respective rulers like Bismarck and Gortschakoff did. Yen-tsz’s interview with Shuh Hiang, when the pair discussed the vices of their respective dukes, is almost as amusing as a “patter” scene in the pantomime, a sort of by-play which takes place whilst the curtain is down in preparation for the next formal act (see Appendix No. 2).
[Illustration: K’ung Ling-i, the hereditary Yen-sheng Kung, or “Propagating Holiness Duke"; 76th in descent from K’ung K’iu, alias K’ung Chung-ni, the original philosopher, 551–479 B.C.
This portrait was presented to “the priest P’eng” (Father Tschepe, S.J.), on the occasion of his visit last autumn (7th moon, 33rd year).]
Confucius himself had descended in the direct line from the ducal family of Sung; but Sung, like the other states, was cursed with the “great family” nuisance, and one of his ancestors, having incurred a grandee’s hostility, had met with his death in a palace intrigue, in consequence of which the Confucian family, despairing of justice, had migrated to Lu. When we read of Confucius’ extensive wanderings (which are treated of more at length in a subsequent Chapter), the matter takes a very different complexion from what is usually supposed, especially if it be recollected what a limited area was really covered. He never got even so far as Tsin, though part of Tsin touched the Lu frontier, and it is doubtful if he was ever 300 miles, as the crow flies, from his own house in Lu; true, he visited the fringe of Ts’u, but it must be remembered that the place he visited was only in modern Ho Nan province, and was one of the recent conquests of Ts’u, belonging to the Hwai River system. As we explained in the last Chapter, Ts’u’s policy then was to work up eastwards to the river Sz; that is, to the Grand Canal of to-day. Confucius, it is plain, was no mere pedant; for we have seen how, in the year 500, when he first enjoyed high political power, he displayed conspicuously great strategical and diplomatic ability in defeating the treacherous schemes of the ruler of Ts’i, who had been endeavouring to filch Lu territory, and who was dreadfully afraid lest Lu should, through Wu’s favour, acquire the hegemony or protectorship. He could even be humorous, for when the barbarian King of Wu put in a demand for a “handsome hat,” Confucius contemptuously observed that the gorgeousness of a hat’s trimmings appealed to this ignorant monarch more than the emblem of rank distinguishing one hat from another.
Sung provided one distinguished statesman in Hiang Suh, whose fame is bound up with a kind of Hague Disarmament or Peace Conference, which he successfully engineered in 546 B.C. (see Appendix No. 3). In the year 558 he had been sent on a marriage mission to Lu. Ki- chah of Wu, who died at the ripe age of 90, was quite entitled to be king of that country, but he repeatedly waived his claims in favour of his brothers. K’ue-peh-yueh of Wei, is mentioned in the Book of Rites, and in many other works. With him Confucius lodged on the two occasions of long sojourn in Wei: he is the man mentioned in Chapter XII who gave his authoritative “ritual" opinion about traitors. Ts’in never seems to have produced a native literary statesman on its own soil. During this 500-year period of isolated development, and also during the later period of conquest in the third century B.C., all its statesmen were borrowed from Tsin, or from some orthodox state of China proper; in military genius, however, Ts’in was unrivalled, and a special Chapter will be devoted to her huge battues. The literary reputation of Ts’u was high at a comparatively early date, and even now the “Elegies of Ts’u” include some of the very finest of the Chinese poems and belles lettres; but in Confucius’ time no Ts’u man, except possibly Lao-tsz, had any reputation at all; and Lao-tsz, being a mere archive keeper, not entrusted with any influential office, naturally lacked opportunity to emerge from the chrysalis stage. Moreover, the imperial dynasty, which Lao-tsz served, had no political influence at all: it was an ironical saying of the times; “the best civilians are Ts’u’s, but they all serve other states,” (meaning that the Ts’u rule was too capricious to attract talent). Hence, apart from the fact that Confucius doubted the wisdom of Lao-tsz’s novel philosophy, Confucius had no occasion whatever to mention the secluded, self- contained old man in his political history, or, rather, in his bald annals of royal-movements.