Ancient China Simplified
by Edward Harper Parker
Public Domain Books
Chapter XXVIII - Barbarians
The country of Wu is in many respects even more interesting ethnologically than that of Ts’u. When, a generation or two before the then vassal Chou family conquered China, two of the sons of the ruler of that vassal principality decided to forego their rights of succession, they settled amongst the Jungle savages, cut their hair, adopted the local raiment, and tattooed their bodies; or, rather, it is said the elder of the two covered his head and his body decently, while the younger cut his hair, went naked, and tattooed his body. The words “Jungle savages” apply to the country later called Ts’u; but as Wu, when we first hear of her, was a subordinate country belonging to Ts’u; and as in any case the word “Wu” was unknown to orthodox China, not to say to extreme western China, in 1200 B.C. when the adventurous brothers migrated; this particular point need not trouble us so much as it seems to have puzzled the Chinese critics. About 575 the first really historical King of Wu paid visits to the Emperor’s court, to the court of his suzerain the King of Ts’u, and to the court of Lu: probably the Hwai system of rivers would carry him within measurable distance of all three, for the headwaters almost touch the tributaries of the Han, and the then Ts’u capital (modern King-thou Fu) was in touch with the River Han. He observed when in Lu: “We only know how to knot our hair in Wu; what could we do with such fine clothes as you wear?” It was the policy of Tsin and of the other minor federal princes to make use of Wu as a diversion against the advance of Ts’u: it is evident that by this time Ts’u had begun to count seriously as a Chinese federal state, for one of the powerful private families behind the throne and against the throne in Lu expressed horror that “southern savages (i.e. Wu) should invade China (i.e. Ts’u),” by taking from it part of modern An Hwei province: as, however, barbarian Ts’u had taken it first from orthodox China, perhaps the mesne element of Ts’u was not in the statesman’s mind at all, but only the original element,–China. An important remark is made by one of the old historians to the effect that the language and manners of Wu were the same as those of Yiieh. In 483, when Wu’s pretensions as Protector were at their greatest, the people of Ts’i made use of ropes eight feet long in order to bind certain Wu prisoners they had taken, “because their heads were cropped so close”: this statement hardly agrees with that concerning “knotted hair,” unless the toupet or chignon was very short indeed. ’There are not many native Wu words quoted, beyond the bare name of the country itself, which is something like Keu-gu, or Kou-gu: an executioner’s knife is mentioned under the foreign name chuh-lu, presented to persons expected to commit suicide, after the Japanese harakiri fashion. In 584 B.C., when the first steps were taken by orthodox China to utilize Wu politically, it was found necessary, as we have seen, to teach the Wu folk the use of war-chariots and bows and arrows: this important statement points distinctly to the previous utter isolation of Wu from the pale of Chinese civilization. In the year 502 Ts’i sent a princess as hostage to Wu, and ended by giving her in marriage to the Wu heir: (we have seen how Tsin anticipated Ts’i by twenty-five years in conferring a similar honour upon Ts’u). A century or more later, when Mencius was advising the bellicose court of Ts’i, he alluded with indignation to this “barbarous” act. In 544 the Wu prince Ki-chah had visited Lu and other orthodox states.
[Illustration: Map of the Hwai system and Valley
1. The two lines indicated by...............to the north are (1) the River Sz (now Grand Canal), from Confucius’ birthplace, and (2) the River I (from modern I-shui city south of the German colony). After receiving the I, the Sz entered the Hwai as it emerged from Lake Hung-t&h; but this Hwai mouth no longer exists; the waters are dissipated in canals.
The Wu fleets coasting up to the Hwai, were thus able to creep into the heart of Shan Tung province, east and west.
2. The Yang-tsz had three branches: (1) northern, much as now; (2) middle, branching at modern Wuhu, crossing the T’ai-hu Lake, and following the Soochow Creek and Wusung River past Shanghai; (3) southern, carrying part of the Tai-hu waters by a forgotten route (probably the modern Grand Canal), to near Hangchow.
3. The three crosses [Image: Circle with an ’X’ in it] mark the capitals of Wu (respectively near Wu-sih and Soochow) and Yiieh (near Shao-hing). The modern canal from Hangchow to Shan Tung is clearly indicated. Orthodox China knew absolutely nothing of Cheh Kiang, Fuh Kien, or Kiang Si provinces south of lat. 300.]
In recognition of this civilized move on the part of an ancient family, Confucius in his history grants the rank of “viscount” to the King of Wu, but he does not style Ki-chah by the complimentary title Ki Kung-tsz, or “Ki, the son of a reigning prince"; that is, the king’s title thus accorded retrospectively is only a “courtesy one,” and does not carry with it a posthumous name, and with that name the posthumous title of Kung, or “duke"’ applied to all civilized rulers. Yet it is evident that the ruling caste of Wu considered itself superior to the surrounding tribes, for in the year 493 it was remarked: “We here in Wu are entirely surrounded by savages"; and in 481 the Emperor himself sent a message through Tsin to Wu, saying: “I know that you are busy with the savages you have on hand at present.” In the year 482, when the orthodox princes of Sung, Wei, and Lu were holding off from an alliance with Wu, the prince of Wei was detained by a Wu general, but escaped, and set to work to learn the language of Wu. The motive is of no importance; but the clear statement about a different language, or at least a dialect so different that it required special study, is interesting. When Ki-chah was on his travels, he explained to his friends that the law of succession is: “By the rites to the eldest, as established by our ancestors and by the customs of the country.” In 502 the King of Wu was embarrassed about his successor, whose character did not commend itself to him, His counsellor (a refugee from Ts’u) said: “Order in the state ceases if the succession be interrupted; by ancient law son should succeed father deceased.” Thus it seems that the ancient Chou rules had been conveyed to Wu by the first colonists in 1200 B.C., and that the succession laws differed from those of Ts’u. Ki-chah’s son died whilst he was on his travels, and Confucius is reported to have said: “He is a man who understands the rites; let us see what he does.” Ki-chah bared his left arm and shoulder, marched thrice round the grave, and said: “Flesh and bone back to the earth, as is proper; as to the soul, let it go anywhere it chooses!” This language was approved by Confucius, who himself always declined to dogmatize on death and spirits, maintaining that men knew too little of themselves, when living, to be justified in groping for facts about the dead. At first sight it would appear strange that a barbarous country like Wu should suddenly produce a learned prince who at once captivated by his culture Yen-tsz of Ts’i, Confucius of Lu, Tsz-ch’an of Cheng, K’u-peh-yu of Wei, Shuh Hiang of Tsin, and, in short, all the distinguished statesmen of China; but if we reflect that, within half a century, the greatest naval, military, and scientific geniuses have been produced on Western lines in Japan (as we shall soon see, in some way connected with Wu), at least we find good modern parallels for the phenomenon.
When Wu, after a series of bloody wars with Ts’u and Yiieh, was in 473 finally extinguished by the latter power, a portion of the King of Wu’s family escaped in boats in an easterly direction. At this time not only was Japan unknown to China under that name, but also quite unheard of under any name whatever. It was not until 150 years later that the powerful states of Yen and Ts’i, which, roughly speaking, divided with them the eastern part of the modern province of Chih Li, the northern part of Shan Tung, and the whole coasts of the Gulf of “Pechelee,” began to talk vaguely of some mysterious and beautiful islands lying in the sea to the east. When the First August Emperor had conquered China, he made several tours to the Shan Tung promontory, to the site of the former Yueh capital (modern Kiao Chou), to the treaty-port of Chefoo (where he left an inscription), to the Shan-hai Kwan Pass, and to the neighbourhood of Ningpo. He also had heard rumours of these mysterious islands, and he therefore sent a physician of his staff with a number of young people to make inquiry, and colonize the place if possible. They brought back absurd stories of some monstrous fish that had interfered with their landing, and they reported that these fish could only be frightened away by tattooing the body as the natives did, The people of Wu, who were great fisherfolk and mariners, were also stated to have indulged in universal tattooing because they wished to frighten dangerous fish away. The first mission from Japan, then a congeries of petty states, totally unacquainted with writing or records, came to China in the first century of our era; it was not sent by the central King, but only by one of the island princes. Later embassies from and to Japan disclose the fact that the Japanese themselves had traditions of their descent both from ancient Chinese Emperors and from the founder of Wu, i.e. from the Chou prince who went there in 1200 B.C.; of the medical mission sent by the First August Emperor; of the flight from Wu in 473 B.C. of part of the royal Wu family to Japan; and of other similar matters–all apparently tending to show that the refugees from Wu really did reach Japan; that a very early shipping intercourse had probably existed between Japan, Ts’i, and Wu; and that, in addition to the statements made by later Chinese historians to the effect that the Japanese considered themselves in some way hereditarily connected with Wu, the early Japanese traditions and histories (genuine or concocted) themselves separately repeated the story. One of the later Chinese histories says of Wu: “Part of the king’s family escaped and founded the kingdom of Wo” (the ancient name for the Japanese race): the temptation to connect this word with Wu is obvious; but etymology will not tolerate such an identification, either from a Chinese or a Japanese point of view; the etymological “values” are Ua and Gu respectively.
As in the case of Ts’u, there is no really trustworthy evidence to show of what race or races, and in what proportions, the bulk of the Wu population consisted; still less is there any specific evidence to show to what race the barbarian king who committed suicide in 473 belonged; or if those of his family who escaped were wholly or partly Chinese; or if any pure descent existed at all in royal circles, dating, that is to say, from the ancient colonists of the imperial Chou family in 1200 B.C.
So far as purely Chinese traditions and history go, the cumulative evidence, such as it is, needs careful sifting, and is, perhaps, worth a more thorough examination; but as to the Japanese traditions and early “history,” these, as the Japanese themselves admit, were only put together in written form retrospectively in the eighth century A.D., and throughout they show signs of having been deliberately concocted on the Chinese lines; that is, Chinese historical incidents and phraseology are worked into the narrative of supposed Japanese events, and Japanese emperors or empresses are (admittedly) fitted with posthumous names mostly copied from imperial Chinese posthumous names. By themselves they are almost valueless, so far as the fixing of specific dates and the identification of political events are concerned; and even when taken as ancillary to contemporary Chinese evidence, except in so far as a few Chinese misprints or errors may be more clearly indicated by comparison with them, they seem equally valueless either to confirm, to check, to modify, or to contradict the Chinese accounts, which, indeed, are absolutely the sole trustworthy written evidence either we or the Japanese themselves possess about the actual condition of the Japanese 2000 years ago.
Meanwhile, as to Wu, all we can say with certainty is, that there is a persistent rumour or tradition that some of its royal refugees (themselves of unknown race) who escaped in boats eastward, may have escaped to Japan; may have succeeded in “imposing themselves” on the people, or a portion of the people (themselves a mixed race of uncertain provenance); and may have quietly and informally introduced Chinese words, ideas, and methods, several centuries before known and formal intercourse between Japan and China took place.