Ancient China Simplified
by Edward Harper Parker
Public Domain Books
Chapter XXVI - Fighting State Period
The period of political development covered by Confucius’ history– the object of which history, it must be remembered, was to read to the restless age a series of solemn warnings–was immediately succeeded by the most active and bloodthirsty period in the Chinese annals, that of the Fighting States, or the Six Countries; sometimes they (including Ts’in) were called the “Seven Males," i.e. the Seven Great Masculine Powers. Tsin had been already practically divided up between the three surviving great families of the original eleven in 424 B.C.; but these three families of Ngwei, Han, and Chao were not recognized by the Emperor until 403; nor did they extinguish the legitimate ruler until 376, about three years after the sacrifices of the legitimate Ts’i kings were stopped. Accordingly we hear the original name Tsin, or “the three Tsin,” still used concurrently with the names Han, Ngwei, and Chao, as that of Ts’u’s chief enemy in the north for some time after the division into three had taken place.
Tsin’s great rival to the west, Ts’in, now found occupation in extending her territory to the south-west at the expense of Shuh, a vast dominion corresponding to the modern Sz Ch’wan, up to then almost unheard of by orthodox China, but which, it then first transpired, had had three kings and ten “emperors” of its own, nine of these latter bearing the same appellation. Even now, the rapids and gorges of the Yang-tsz River form the only great commercial avenue from China into Sz Ch’wan, and it is therefore not hard to understand how in ancient times, the tribes of “cave barbarians” (whose dwellings are still observable all over that huge province) effectively blocked traffic along such subsidiary mountain-roads as may have existed then, as they exist now, for the use of enterprising hawkers.
The Chinese historians have no statistics, indulge in fen (few?) remarks about economic or popular development, describe no popular life, and make no general reflections upon history; they confine themselves to narrating the bald and usually unconnected facts which took place on fixed dates, occasionally describing some particularly heroic or daring individual act, or even sketching the personal appearance and striking conduct of an exceptionally remarkable king, general, or other leading personality: hence there is little to guide us to an intelligent survey of causes and effects, of motives and consequences; it is only by carefully piecing together and collating a jumble of isolated events that it is possible to obtain any general coup d’oeil at all: the wood is often invisible on account of the trees.
But there can be no doubt that populations had been rapidly increasing; that improved means had been found to convey accumulated stores and equipments; that generals had learnt how to hurl bodies of troops rapidly from one point to the other; and that rulers knew the way either to interest large populations in war, or to force them to take an active part in it. The marches, durbars, and gigantic canal works, undertaken by the barbarous King of Wu, as described in Chapter XXI., prove this in the case of one country. Chinese states always became great in the same way: first Kwan-tsz developed, on behalf of his master the First Protector, the commerce, the army, and the agriculture of Ts’i. He was imitated at the same time by Duke Muh of Ts’in and King Chwang of Ts’u, both of which rulers (seventh century B.C.) set to work vigorously in developing their resources. Then Tsz-ch’an raised Cheng to a great pitch of diplomatic influence, if not also of military power. His friend Shuh Hiang did the same thing for Tsin; and both of them were models for Confucius in Lu, who had, moreover, to defend his own master’s interests against the policy of the philosopher Yen-tsz of Ts’i. After his first defeat by the King of Wu, the barbarian King of Yueh devoted himself for some years to the most strenuous life, with the ultimate object of amassing resources for the annihilation of Wu; the interesting steps he took to increase the population will be described at length in a later Chapter. In 361, as we have explained in Chapter XXII., a scion of Wei went as adviser to Ts’in, and within a generation of his arrival the whole face of affairs was changed in that western state hitherto so isolated; the new position, from a military point of view, was almost exactly that of Prussia during the period between the tyranny of the first Napoleon, together with the humiliation experienced at his hands, and the patient gathering of force for the final explosion of 1870, involving the crushing of the second (reigning) Napoleon.
Very often the term “perpendicular and horizontal” period is applied to the fourth century B.C. That is, Ts’u’s object was to weld together a chain of north and south alliances, so as to bring the power of Ts’i and Tsin to bear together with her own upon Ts’in; and Ts’in’s great object was, on the other hand, to make a similar string of east and west alliances, so as to bring the same two powers to bear upon Ts’u. The object of both Ts’in and Ts’u was to dictate terms to each unit of; and ultimately to possess, the whole Empire, merely utilizing the other powers as catspaws to hook the chestnuts out of the furnace. No other state had any rival pretensions, for, by this time, Ts’in and Ts’u each really did possess one-third part of China as we now understand it, whilst the other third was divided between Ts’i and the three Tsin. In 343 B.C. the Chou Emperor declared Ts’in Protector, and from 292 to 288 B.C., Tsin and Ts’i took for a few years the ancient title of Ti or “Emperor” of the West and East respectively: in the year 240 the Chou Emperor even proceeded to Ts’in to do homage there. Tsin might have been in the running for universal empire had she held together instead of dividing herself into three. Yen was altogether too far away north,–though, curiously enough, Yen (Peking) has been the political centre of North China for 900 years past,–and Ts’i was too far away east. Moreover, Ts’i was discredited for having cut off the sacrifices of the legitimate house. Ts’u was now master of not only her old vassals, Wu and Yiieh, but also of most of the totally unknown territory down to the south sea, of which no one except the Ts’u people at that time knew so much as the bare local names; it bore the same relation to Ts’u that the Scandinavian tribes did to the Romanized Germans. Ts’in had become not only owner of Sz Ch’wan– at first as suzerain protector, not as direct administrator–but had extended her power down to the south-west towards Yiin Nan and Tibet, and also far away to the north-west in Tartarland, but not farther than to where the Great Wall now extends. It is in the year 318 B.C. that we first hear the name Hiung-nu (ancestors of the Huns and Turks), a body of whom allied themselves in that year with the five other Chinese powers then in arms against the menacing attitude of Ts’in; something remarkable must have taken place in Tartarland to account for this sudden change of name, The only remains of old federal China consisted of about ten petty states such as Sung, Lu, etc., all situated between the Rivers Sz and Hwai, and all waiting, hands folded, to be swallowed up at leisure by this or that universal conqueror.
Ts’in s’en va t’en guerre seriously in the year 364, and began her slashing career by cutting off 60,000 “Tsin” heads; (the legitimate Tsin sacrifices had been cut off in 376, so this “Tsin" must mean “Ngwei,” or that part of old Tsin which was coterminous with Ts’in); in 331, in a battle with Ngwei, 80,000 more heads were taken off. ’In 318 the Hiung-nu combination just mentioned lost 82,000 heads between them; in 314 Han lost 10,000; in 312 Ts’u lost 80,000; in 307 Han lost 60,000; and in 304 Ts’u lost 80,000. In the year 293 the celebrated Ts’in general, Peh K’i, who has left behind him a reputation as one of the greatest manipulators of vast armies in Eastern history, cut off 240,000 Han heads in one single battle; in 275, 40,000 Ngwei heads; and in 264, 50,000 Han heads. “Enfin je vais me mesurer avec ce Vilainton” said the King of Chao, when his two western friends of Han and Ngwei had been hammered out of existence. In the year 260 the Chao forces came to terrible grief; General Peh K’i managed completely to surround their army of 400,000 men he accepted their surrender, guaranteed their safety, and then proceeded methodically to massacre the whole of them to a man. In 257 “Tsin” (presumably Han or Ngwei) lost 6,000 killed and 20,000 drowned; in 256 Han lost 40,000 heads, and in 247 her last 30,000, whilst also in 256 Chao her last 90,000. These terrible details have been put together from the isolated statements; but there can be no mistake about them, for the historian Sz-ma Ts’ien, writing in 100 B.C., says: “The allies with territory ten times the extent of the Ts’in dominions dashed a million men against her in vain; she always had her reserves in hand ready, and from first to last a million corpses bit the dust.”
No such battles as these are even hinted at in more ancient times; nor, strange to say, are the ancient chariots now mentioned any more. Ts’in had evidently been practising herself in fighting with the Turks and Tartars for some generations, and had begun to perceive what was still only half understood in China, the advantage of manoeuvring large bodies of horsemen; but, curiously enough, nothing is said of horses either; yet all these battles seem to have been fought on the flat lands of old federal China, suitable for either chariots or horses. The first specific mention of cavalry manoeuvres on a large scale was in the year 198 B.C. when the new Han Emperor of China in person, with a straggling army of 320,000 men, mostly infantry, was surrounded by four bodies of horsemen led by the Supreme Khan, in white, grey, black, and chestnut divisions, numbering 300,000 cavalry in all: his name was Megh-dun (? the Turkish Baghatur).
Whilst all this was going on, Mencius, the Confucian philosopher, and the two celebrated diplomatists (of Taoist principles), Su Ts’in and Chang I, were flying to and fro all over orthodox China with a view of offering sage political advice; this was the time par excellence when the rival Taoist and Confucian prophets were howling in the wilderness of war and greed: but Ts’in cared not much for talkers: generals did her practical business better: in 308 she began to cast covetous eyes on the Emperor’s poor remaining appanage. In 301 she was called upon to quell a revolt in Shuh; then she materially reduced the pretensions of her great rival Ts’u; and finally rested a while, whilst gathering more strength for the supreme effort-the conquest of China.