Ancient China Simplified
by Edward Harper Parker
Public Domain Books
Chapter XVIII - Treaties and Vows
Treaties were always very solemn functions, invariably accompanied by the sacrifice of a victim. A part of the victim, or of its blood, was thrown into a ditch, in order that the Spirit of the Earth might bear witness to the deed; the rest of the blood was rubbed upon the lips of the parties concerned, and also scattered upon the documents, by way of imprecation; sometimes, however, the imprecations, instead of being uttered, were specially written at the end of the treaty. Just as we now say “the ink was scarcely dry before, etc., etc.,” the Chinese used to say “the blood of the victim was scarcely dry on their lips, before, etc., etc.” When the barbarian King of Wu succeeded for a short period in “durbaring” the federal Chinese princes, a dispute took place (as narrated in Chapter XIV.) between Tsin and Wu as to who should rub the lips with blood first–in other words, have precedence. In the year 541 B.C., sixty years before the above event, Tsin and Ts’u had agreed to waive the ceremony of smearing the lips with blood, to choose a victim in common, and to lay the text of the treaty upon the victim after a solemn reading of its contents. This modification was evidently made in consequence of the disagreement between Tsin and Ts’u at the Peace Conference of 546, when a dispute had arisen (page 47), as to which should smear the lips first. This was the occasion on which the famous Tsin statesman, Shuh Hiang, in the face of seventeen states’ representatives, all present, had the courage to ignore Ts’u’s treachery in concealing cuirasses under the soldiers’ clothes. He said: “Tsin holds her pre-eminent position as Protector by her innate good qualities, which will always command the adhesion of other states; why need we care if Ts’u smears first, or if she injures herself by being detected in treachery?” It has already been mentioned that Confucius glosses over or falsifies both the above cases, and gives the victory in each instance to Tsin. Though these little historical peccadilloes on the part of the saint homme are considered even by orthodox critics to be objectionable, it must be remembered that it was very risky work writing history at all in those despotic times: even in comparatively democratic days (100 B.C.), the “father of Chinese history” was castrated for criticizing the reigning Emperor in the course of issuing his great work; and so late as the fifth century A.D. an almost equally great historian was put to death “with his three generations” for composing a “true history” of the Tartars then ruling as Emperors of North China; i.e. for disclosing their obscure and barbarous origin, Moreover, foreigners who fix upon these trifling specific and admitted discrepancies, in order to discredit the general truth of all Chinese history, must remember that the Chinese critics, from the very beginning, have always, even when manifestly biased, been careful to expose errors; the very discrepancies themselves, indeed, tend to prove the substantial truth of the events recorded; and the fact that admittedly erroneous texts still stand unaltered proves the reverent care of the Chinese as a nation to preserve their defective annals, with all faults, in their original condition.
At this treaty conference of 546 B.C., held at the Sung capital, the host alone had no vote, being held superior (as host) to all; and, further, out of respect for his independence, the treaty had to be signed outside his gates: the existence of the Emperor was totally ignored.
A generation before this (579) another important treaty between the two great rivals, Tsin and Ts’u, had been signed by the high contracting parties outside the walls of Sung. The articles provided for community of interest in success or failure; mutual aid in every thing, more especially in war; free use of roads so long as relations remained peaceful; joint action in face of menace from other powers; punishment of those neglecting to come to court. The imprecation ran: “Of him who breaks this, let the armies be dispersed and the kingdom be lost; moreover, let the spirits chastise him.” Although both orthodox powers professed their anxiety to “protect” the imperial throne, yet, seeing that the Emperor was quietly shelved in all these conventions, the reference to “court duty” probably refers to the duty of Cheng and the other small orthodox states to render homage to Tsin or Ts’u (as the case might be) as settled by this and previous treaties. In fact, at the Peace Conference of 546, it was agreed between the two mesne lords that the vassals of Ts’u should pay their respects to Tsin, and vice versa. But, during the negotiations, a zealous Tsin representative went on to propose that the informal allies of the chief contracting powers should also be dragged in: “If Ts’in will pay us a visit, I will try and induce Ts’i to visit T’su.” These two powers had ententes, Ts’i with Tsin, and Ts’u with Ts’in, but recognized no one’s hegemony over them. It was this surprise sprung upon the Ts’u delegates that necessitated an express messenger to the king, as recounted at the end of Chapter XVI. The King of Ts’u sent word: “Let Ts’in and Ts’i alone; let the others visit our respective capitals.” Accordingly it was understood that Tsin and Ts’u should both be Protectors, but that neither Ts’in nor Ts’i should recognize their status to the point of subordinating themselves to the joint hegemons. This was Ts’u’s first appearance as effective hegemon, but her official debut alone did not take place till 538. Ts’i and Ts’in had both approved, in principle, the terms of peace, but Ts’in sent no representative, whilst Ts’i sent two. It is very remarkable that Sz-ma Ts’ien (the great historian of 100 B.C., who was castrated) does not mention this important meeting in his great work, either under the heading of Ts’i, or of Tsin, or under the headings of Sung and Ts’u. It seems, however, really to have had good effect for several generations; but there was some thing behind it which shows that love for humanity was not the leading motive of the chief parties. Two years later it was that the philosophical brother of the King of Wu went his rounds among the Chinese princes, and it is evident that Ts’u only desired peace with North China whilst she tackled this formidable new enemy on the coast. Tsin, on the other hand, was in trouble with the “six great families” (the survivors of the “eleven great families" conciliated by the Second Protector), who were gradually undermining the princely authority in Tsin to their own private aggrandisement. In 572 B.C., when the legitimate ruler of Tsin, who had been superseded by irregular successors, was fetched back from the Emperor’s court, to which he had gone for a quiet asylum, he drew up a treaty of conditions with his own ministers, and immolated a chicken as sanction; this idea is still occasionally perpetuated in British courts of justice, where Chinese, probably without knowing it, draw upon ancient history when asked by the court how they are accustomed to sanction an oath; cocks are often also carried about by modern Chinese boatmen for purposes of sacrifice. In the year 504, after Wu had captured the Ts’u capital, one of the petty orthodox Chinese states taken by Ts’u– the first to be so taken by barbarians–in 684, but left by Ts’u internally independent, declined to render any assistance to Wu, unless she could prove her competence to hold permanently the Ts’u territory thus conquered. The King of Ts’u was so grateful for this that he drew some blood from the breast of his own half- brother, and on the spot made a treaty with the vassal prince. It 662, even in a love vow, the ruler of Lu cut his own arm and exchanged drops of blood with his lady-love. In 481 the people of Wei (the small orthodox state on the middle Yellow River between Tsin and Lu) forced one of their politicians to swear allegiance to the desired successor under the sanction of a sacrificial pig.
The great Kwan-tsz insisted on his prince carrying out a treaty which had been extorted in times of stress; but, as a rule, the most opportunistic principles were laid down, even by Confucius himself when he was placed under personal stress: “Treaties obtained by force are of no value, as the spirits could not then have really been present.” In 589 Ts’u invaded the state of Wei, just mentioned, and menaced the adjoining state of Lu, compelling the execution of a treaty. Confucius, who once broke a treaty himself, naturally retrospectively considered this ducal treaty of no effect, and he even goes so far as to avoid mentioning in his annals some of the important persons who were present; he especially “burkes” two Chinese ruling princes, who were shameless enough to ride in the same chariot with the King of Ts’u, under whose predominancy they were, and who were therefore themselves under a kind of stress. In 482 one of Confucius’ pupils made the following casuistical reply to the government of Wu on their application for renewal of a treaty with her: “It is only fidelity that gives solidity to treaties; they are determined by mutual consent, and it is with sacrifices that they are laid before our ancestors; the written words give expression to them, and the spirits guarantee them. A treaty once concluded cannot be changed: otherwise it were vain to make a new one. Remember the proverb: “What needs warming up more may just as well be eaten cold.” The ordinary rough-and-ready form of oath or vow between individuals was: “If I break this, may I be as this river"; or, “may the river god be witness.” There were many other similar forms, and it was often customary to throw something valuable into the river as a symbol.