Ancient China Simplified
by Edward Harper Parker
Public Domain Books
Chapter XXIV - Kings and Nobles
The emperors of the dynasty of Chou, which came formally into power in 1122 B.C., we have seen took no other title than that of wang, which is usually considered by Europeans to mean “king"; in modern times it is applied to the rulers of (what until recently were) tributary states, such as Loochoo, Annam, and Corea; to foreign rulers (unless they insist on a higher title); and to Manchu and Mongol princes of the blood, and mediatized princes. Confucius in his history at first always alludes to the Emperor whilst living as t’ien-wang, or “the heavenly king"; it is not until in speaking of the year 583 that he uses the old term t’ien-tsz, or “Son of Heaven,” in alluding to the reigning Emperor. After an emperor’s death he is spoken of by his posthumous name; as, for instance, Wu Wang, the “Warrior King," and so on: these posthumous names were only introduced (as a regular system) by the Chou dynasty.
The monarchs of the two dynasties Hia (2205-1767) and Shang (1766- 1123) which preceded that of Chou, and also the somewhat mythical rulers who preceded those two dynasties, were called Ti, a word commonly translated by Western nations as “Emperor.” For many generations past the Japanese, in order better to assert vis-a- vis of China their international rank, have accordingly made use of the hybrid expression “Ti-state,” by which they seek to convey the European idea of an “empire,” or a state ruled over by a monarch in some way superior to a mere king, which is the highest title China has ever willingly accorded to a foreign prince; this royal functionary in her eyes is, or was, almost synonymous with “tributary prince.” Curiously enough, this “dog- Chinese” (Japanese) expression is now being reimported into Chinese political literature, together with many other excruciating combinations, a few of European, but mostly of Japanese manufacture, intended to represent such Western ideas as “executive and legislative," “constitutional,” “ministerial responsibility,” “party,” “political view," and so on. But we ourselves must not forget, in dealing with the particular word “imperial,” that the Romans first extended the military title of imperator to the permanent holder of the “command,” simply because the ancient and haughty word of “king” was, after the expulsion of the kings, viewed with such jealousy by the people of Rome that even of Caesar it is said that he did thrice refuse the title, So the ancient Chinese Ti, standing alone, was at first applied both to Shang Ti or “God” and to his Vicar on Earth, the Ti or Supreme Ruler of the Chinese world. Even Lao-tsz (sixth century B.C.), in his revolutionary philosophy, considers the “king” or “emperor” as one of the moral forces of nature, on a par with “heaven," “earth,” and “Tao (or Providence).” When we reflect what petty “worlds” the Assyrian, Egyptian, and Greek worlds were, we can hardly blame the Chinese, who had probably been settled in Ho Nan just as long as the Western ruling races had been in Assyria and Egypt respectively, for imagining that they, the sole recorders of events amongst surrounding inferiors, were the world; and that the incoherent tribes rushing aimlessly from all sides to attack them, were the unreclaimed fringe of the world.
It does not appear clearly why the Chou dynasty took the new title of wang, which does not seem to occur in any titular sense previous to their accession: the Chinese attempts to furnish etymological explanation are too crude to be worth discussing. No feudal Chinese prince presumed to use it during the Chou regime and if the semi-barbarous rulers of Ts’u, Wu, and Yiieh did so in their own dominions (as the Hwang Ti, or “august emperor,” of Annam was in recent times tacitly allowed to do), their federal title in orthodox China never went beyond that of viscount. When in the fourth century B.C. all the powers styled themselves wang, and were recognized as such by the insignificant emperors, the situation was very much the same as that produced in Europe when first local Caesars, who, to begin with, had been “associates” of the Augustus (or two rival Augusti), asserted their independence of the feeble central Augustus, and then set themselves up as Augusti pure and simple, until at last the only “Roman Emperor" left in Rome was the Emperor of Germany.
It is not explained precisely on what grounds, when the first Chou emperors distributed their fiefs, some of the feudal rulers, as explained in Chapter VII., were made dukes; others marquesses, earls, viscounts, and barons. Of course these translated terms are mere makeshifts, simply because the Chinese had five ranks, and so have we. In creating their new nobility, the Japanese have again made use of the five old Chinese titles, except that for some reason they call Duke Ito and Duke Yamagata “Prince” in English. The size of the fiefs had something to do with it in China; the pedigree of the feoffees probably more; imperial clandom perhaps most of all. The sole state ruled by a duke in his own intrinsic right from the first was Sung, a small principality on the northernmost head-waters of the River Hwai, corresponding to the modern Kwei-t&h Fu: probably it was because this duke fulfilled the sacrificial and continuity duties of the destroyed dynasty of Shang that he received extraordinary rank; just as, in very much later days, the Confucius family was the only non-Manchu to possess “ducal” rank, or, as the Japanese seem to hold in German style, “princely” rank. But it must be remembered that the Chou emperors had imperial dukes within their own appanage, precisely as cardinals, or “princes of the Church,” are as common around Rome as they are scarce among the spiritually “feudal” princes of Europe; for feudal they once practically were.
Confucius’ petty state of Lu was founded by the Duke of Chou, brother of the founder posthumously called the Wu Wang, or the “Warrior King”: for many generations those Dukes of Lu seem to have resided at or near the metropolis, and to have assisted the Emperors with their advice as counsellors on the spot, as well as to have visited at intervals and ruled their own distant state, which was separated from Sung by the River Sz and by the marsh or lakes through which that river ran. Yet Lu as a state had only the rank of a marquisate ruled by a marquess.
Another close and influential relative of the founder or “Warrior King” was the Duke of Shao, who was infeoffed in Yen (the Peking plain), and whose descendants, like those of the Duke of Chou, seem to have done double duty at the metropolis and in their own feudal appanage. Confucius’ history scarcely records anything of an international kind about Yen, which was a petty, feeble region, dovetailed in between Tsin and Ts’i, quite isolated, and occupied in civilizing some of the various Tartar and Corean barbarians; but it must have gradually increased in wealth and resources like all the other Chinese states; for, as we have seen in the last Chapter, the Earls of Yen blossomed out into Kings at the beginning of the fourth century B.C., and the philosopher Mencius, when advising the King of Ts’i, even strongly recommended him to make war on the rising Yen power. The founder of Ts’i was the chief adviser of the Chou founder, but was not of his family name; his ancestors–also the ancestors later on claimed by certain Tartar rulers of China–go back to one of the ultra-mythical Emperors of China; his descendants bore, under the Chou dynasty, the dignity of marquess, and reigned without a break until, as already related, the T’ien or Ch’en family, emanating from the orthodox state of Ch’en, usurped the throne. Ts’i was always a powerful and highly civilized state; on one occasion, in 589 B.C., as mentioned in Chapter VI., its capital was desecrated by Tsin; and on another, a century later, the overbearing King of Wu invaded the country. After the title of king was taken in 378 B.C., the court of Ts’i became quite a fashionable centre, and the gay resort of literary men, scientists, and philosophers of all kinds, Taoists included.
Tsin, like Ts’i, was of marquess rank, and though its ruling family was occasionally largely impregnated with Tartar blood by marriage, it was not much more so than the imperial family itself had sometimes been, The Chinese have never objected to Tartars qua Tartars, except as persons who “let their hair fly," “button their coats on the wrong side,” and do not practise the orthodox rites; so soon as these defects are remedied, they are eligible for citizenship on equal terms. There has never been any race question or colour question in China, perhaps because the skin is yellow in whichever direction you turn; but it is difficult to conceive of the African races being clothed with Chinese citizenship.
Wei was a small state lying between the Yellow River as it now is and the same river as it then was: it was given to a brother of the founder of the Chou dynasty, and his subjects, like those of the Sung duke, consisted largely of the remains of the Shang dynasty; from which circumstance we may conclude that the so- called “dynasties,” including that of Chou, were simply different ruling clans of one and the same people, very much like the different Jewish tribes, of which the tribe of Levi was the most “spiritual”: that peculiarity may account for the universal unreadiness to cut off sacrifices and destroy tombs, an outrage we only hear of between barbarians, as, for instance, when Wu sacked the capital of Ts’u. We have seen in Chapter XII. that a reigning duke even respected at least some of the sacrificial rights of a traitor subject.
The important state of CHENG, lying to the eastward of the imperial reserve, was only founded in the ninth century B.C. by one of the then Emperor’s sons; to get across to each other, the great states north and south of the orthodox nucleus had usually to “beg road” of CHENG, which territory, therefore, became a favourite fighting-ground; the rulers were earls. Ts’ao (earls) and Ts’ai (marquesses) were small states to the north and south of CHENG, both of the imperial family name. The state of CH’EN was ruled by the descendants of the Emperor Shun, the monarch who preceded the Hia dynasty, and who, as stated before, is supposed to have been buried in the (modern) province of Hu Nan, south of the Yang-tsz River: they were marquesses. These three last-named states were always bones of contention between Tsin and Ts’u, on the one hand, and between Ts’i and Ts’u on the other. The remaining feudal states are scarcely worth special mention as active participators in the story of how China fought her way from feudalism to centralization; most of their rulers were viscounts or barons in status, and seem to have owed, or at least been obliged to pay, more duty to the nearest great feudatory than direct to the Emperor.
No matter what the rank of the ruler, so soon as he had been supplied with a posthumous name (expressing, in guarded style, his personal character) he was known to history as “the Duke So-and- So.” Even one of the Rings of Ts’u, is courteously called “the Duke Chwang” after his death, because as a federal prince he had done honour to the courtesy title of viscount. Princes or rulers not enjoying any of the five ranks were, if orthodox sovereign princes over never so small a tract, still called posthumously, “the Duke X.”
Hence Western writers, in describing Confucius’ master and the rulers of other feudal states, often speak of “the Duke of Lu,” or “of Tsin"; but this is only an accurate form of speech when taken subject to the above reserves.