Ancient China Simplified
by Edward Harper Parker
Public Domain Books
Chapter XXIII - Break-Up of China
We must turn to unorthodox China once more, and see how it fared after Confucius’ death. After only a short century of international existence, the vigorous state of Wu perished once for all in the year 473 B.C., and the remains of the ruling caste escaped eastwards in boats. When for the first time embassies between the Japanese and the Chinese became fairly regular, in the second and third centuries of our era, there began to be persistent statements made in standard Chinese history that the then ruling powers in Japan considered themselves in some way lineally connected with a Chinese Emperor of 2100 B.C., and with his descendants, their ancestors, who, it was said, escaped from Wu to China. This is the reason why, in Chapter VII., we have suggested, not that the population of Japan came from China, but that some of the semi-barbarous descendants of those ancient Chinese princes who first colonized the then purely barbarous Wu, finding their power destroyed in 473 B.C. by the neighbouring barbarous power of Yueeh, settled in Japan, and continued their civilizing mission in quite a new sphere. Many years ago I endeavoured, in various papers published in China and Japan, to show that, apart from Chinese words adopted into Japanese ever since A.D. 1 from the two separate sources of North China by land and Central China by sea, there is clear reason to detect, in the supposed pure Japanese language, as it was anterior to those importations, an admixture of Chinese words adopted much earlier than A.D. 1, and incorporated into the current tongue at a time when there was no means or thought of “nailing the sounds down” by any phonetic system of writing. There is much other very sound Chinese historical evidence in favour of the migration view, and it has been best summarized in an excellent little work in German, by Rev. A. Tschepe, S.J., published in the interior of Shan Tung province only last year.
The ancient native names for Wu and Yiieh, according to the clumsy Confucian way of writing them, were something like Keu-ngu and O-viet (see Chapter VII.); but it is quite hopeless to attempt reconstruction of the exact sounds intended then to be expressed by syllables which, in Chinese itself, have quite changed in power. The power of Yueeh was supreme after 473; its king was voted Protector by the federal princes, and in 472 he held a grand durbar at the “Lang-ya Terrace,” which place is no longer exactly identifiable, but is probably nothing more than the German settlement at Kiao Chou; in 468 he transferred his capital thither, and it remained there for over a century, till 379: but his power, it seems, was almost purely maritime, and he never succeeded in obtaining a sure footing north of or even in the Hwai valley, the greater part of which he subsequently returned to Ts’u. It must be remembered that the Hwai then had a free course to the sea, and of a part of it, the now extinct Sui valley, the Yellow River took possession for several centuries up to 1851 A.D. He also returned to Sung the territory Wu had taken from her, and made over to Lu 100 li square (30 miles) to the east of the River Sz; to understand this it must be remembered, at the cost of a little iteration, that Sung and Lu were the two chief powers of the middle and lower Sz valley, which is now entirely monopolized by the Grand Canal.
1. The dotted lines mark the boundaries of modern Shen Si, Shan Si, Chih Li, Ho Nan, Shan Tung, An Hwei, and Kiang Su.
2. The names Chao, Ngwei, and Han show how Tsin was split up into three in 403 B.C.
3. The crosses (in the line of each name) show the successive capitals as Ts’in encroached from the west, the last capital in each case having a circle round the cross.]
The imperial dynasty went from bad to worse; in 440 there were family intrigues, assassinations, and divisions. The imperial metropolis, which was towards the end about all the Emperors had left to them, was divided into two, each half ruled by an Eastern and a Western Emperor respectively; unfortunately, no literature has survived which might depict for us the life of the inhabitants during those wretched days. Meanwhile, the ambitious great families of Tsin very nearly fell under the dictatorship of one of their number; in 452 he was himself annihilated by a combination of the others, and the upshot of it was that next year the three families that had crushed the dictator and, emerged victorious, divided up the realm of Tsin into three separate and practically independent states, called respectively Wei or Ngwei (the Shan Si parts), Han (the Ho Nan parts), and Chao (the Chih Li parts). The other ancient and more orthodox state of Wei, occupying the Yellow River valley to the west of Sung and Lu, was now a mere vassal to these three Tsin powers, which had not quite yet declared themselves independent, and which had for the present left the old Tsin capital to the direct administration of the legitimate prince. It was only in the year 403 that the Emperor’s administration formally declared them to be feudal princes. This year is really the next great turning-point in Chinese history, in order of date, after the flight of the Emperors from their old capital in 771 B.C.; and it is, in fact, with this year that the great modern historical work of Sz-ma Kwang begins; it was published A.D. 1084, and brings Chinese events down to a century previous to that date.
As to the state of Ts’i, it also had fallen into evil ways. So early as 539 B.C., when the two philosophers Yen-tsz and Shuh Hiang had confided to each other their mutual sorrows (see Appendix No. 2), the former had predicted that the powerful local family of T’ien or Ch’en was slowly but surely undermining the legitimate princely house, and would certainly end by seizing the throne; one of the methods adopted by the supplanting family was to lend money to the people on very favourable terms, and so to manipulate the grain measures that the taxes due to the prince were made lighter to bear; in this ingenious and indirect way, all the odium of taxation was thrown upon the extravagant princes who habitually squandered their resources, whilst the credit for generosity was turned towards this powerful tax-farming family, which thus took care of its own financial interests, and at the same time secured the affections of the people. In 481 the ambitious T’ien Heng, alias CH’EN Ch’ang, then acting as hereditary maire du palais to the legitimate house, assassinated the ruling prince, an act so shocking from the orthodox point of view that Confucius was quite heartbroken on learning of it, notwithstanding that his own prince had narrowly escaped assassination at the hands of the murdered man’s grandfather. It was not until the year 391, however, that the T’ien, or CH’EN, family, after setting up and deposing princes at their pleasure for nearly a century, at last openly threw off the mask and usurped the Ts’i throne: their title was officially recognized by the Son of Heaven in the year 378.
As to Ts’in ambitions, for a couple of centuries past there had been no further advance of conquest, at least in China. The hitherto almost unheard of state of Shuh (Sz Ch’wan) now begins to come prominently forward, and to contest with Ts’in mastery of the upper course of the Yang-tsz River. After being for 260 years in unchallenged possession of all territory west of the Yellow River, Ts’in once more lost this to Tsin (i.e. to Ngwei) in 385. It was not until the other state of Wei, lower down the Yellow River, lost its individuality as an independent country that the celebrated Prince Wei Yang (see Chapter XXII.), having no career at home, offered his services to Ts’in, and that this latter state, availing itself to the full of his knowledge, suddenly shot forth in the light of real progress. We have seen in Chapter XX. that an eminent lawyer and statesman of Ngwei, Ts’in’s immediate rival on the east, had inaugurated a new legal code and an economic land system. This man’s work had fallen under the cognizance of Wei Yang, who carried it with him to Ts’in, where it was immediately utilized to such advantage that Ts’in a century later was enabled to organize her resources thoroughly, and thus conquered the whole empire,
We have now arrived at what is usually called the Six Kingdom Period, or, if we include Ts’in, against whose menacing power the six states were often in alliance, the period of the Seven Kingdoms. These were the three equally powerful states of Ngwei, Han, and Chao (this last very Tartar in spirit, owing to its having absorbed nearly all the Turko-Tartar tribes west of the Yellow River mouth); the northernmost state of Yen, which seems in the same way to have absorbed or to have exercised a strong controlling influence over the Manchu-Corean group of tribes extending from the Liao River to the Chao frontier; Ts’u, which now had the whole south of China entirely to itself, and managed even to amalgamate the coast states of Yiich in 334; and finally Ts’i. In other words, the orthodox Chinese princes, whose comparatively petty principalities in modern Ho Nan province had for several centuries formed a sort of cock-pit in which Ts’in, Tsin, Ts’i, and Ts’u fought out their rivalries, had totally disappeared as independent and even as influential powers, and had been either absorbed by those four great powers (of which Tsin and Ts’i were in reconstituted form), or had become mere obedient vassals to one or the other of them. In former times Tsin had been kinsman and defender; but now Tsin, broken up into three of strange clans, herself afforded an easy prey to Ts’in ambition; the orthodox states were in the defenceless position of the Greek states after Alexander had exhausted Macedon in his Persian wars, and when their last hope, Pyrrhus, had taught the Romans the art of war: they had only escaped Persia to fall into the jaws of Rome.
In the middle of the fourth century B.C. all six powers began to style themselves wang, or “king,” which, as explained before, was the title borne by the Emperors of the Chou dynasty. Military, political, and literary activities were very great after this at the different emulous royal courts, and, however much the literary pedants of the day may have bewailed the decay of the good old times, there can be no doubt that life was now much more varied, more occupied, and more interesting than in the sleepy, respectable, patriarchal days of old. The “Fighting State” Period, as expounded in the Chan-Kwoh Ts’eh, or “Fighting State Records,” is the true period of Chinese chivalry, or knight- errantry.