Ancient China Simplified
by Edward Harper Parker
Public Domain Books
Chapter XXIX - Curious Customs
In laying stress upon the barbarous, or semi-barbarous, quality of the states (all in our days considered pure Chinese), which surrounded the federal area at even so late a period as 771 B.C., we wish to emphasize a point which has never yet been made quite clear, perhaps not even made patent by their own critics to the Chinese themselves; that is to say, the very small and modest beginnings of the civilized patriarchal federation called the Central Kingdom, or Chu Hia–"All the Hia"–just as we say, “All the Russias.”
In allotting precedence to the various states, the historical editors, of course, always put the Emperor first in order of mention; then comes CHENG, the first ruler of which state was son of an Emperor of the then ruling imperial house; next, the three Protectors Ts’i, Tsin, and Sung; then follow the petty states of Wei, Ts’ai, Ts’ao, and T’eng, all of the imperial family name, or, as we say in English, “surname,” and all lying between the Hwai and the Sz systems (T’eng was a “belonging state” of Lu). Then come half a dozen petty orthodox states of less honourable family names; next, three Eastern barbarian states, which had become “Central Kingdom,” or which, once genuine Chinese, had become half barbarian; and finally, Ts’u, Ts’in, Wu, and Yiieh, which were frankly, if vaguely, “outer barbarian-Tartar.”
It has already been demonstrated that there is evidence, however imperfect, to show that the mass of the population of Ts’u and Wu were of decidedly foreign origin. Even as to Ts’i, which was always treated as an orthodox principality, it is stated that the founder sent there in or about 1100 B.C. “conformed to the manners of the place, and encouraged manufactures, commerce, salt and fish industries.” On the other hand, the son of the Duke of Chou (the first vassal prince appointed by his brother the Emperor) changed the customs of Lu, modified the local rites, and induced the people to keep on their mourning attire for three full years. It was considered that the Ts’i policy was the wiser of the two, and it was foretold that Lu would always “look up to” Ts’i in consequence of this superior judgment on the part of Ts’i. On frequent occasions the petty adjoining “Chinesified” states, of which Lu was practically the mesne lord, are stated to have been “tainted with Eastern barbarian rites.” From and including modern Sue-chou (North Kiang Su) and eastward, all were “Eastern barbarians"; in fact, the city just named (mentioned by the name of Sue in 1100 B.C., and again about 950 B.C., as revolting against the Emperor) perpetuates the “Sue barbarians” country, which was for long a bone of contention between Ts’i and Ts’u, and afterwards Wu; and the name “Hwai savages” proves that the Lower Hwai Valley was also independent. The Hwai savages, who appear in the Tribute of Yue, founder of the Hia dynasty, 2205 B.C., revolted 1000 years later against the founders of the Chou dynasty. They were present at Ts’u’s first durbar in 538 B.C., and are mentioned as barbarians still resisting Chinese methods so late as A.D. 970. In Confucius’ time the Lai barbarians (modern Lai-thou Fu in the German sphere) were employed by Ts’i, who had conquered them in 567 B.C., to try and effect the assassination of Confucius’ master. Six hundred years before that, these same barbarians were among the first to give in their submission to the founder of Ts’i; and in 602 B.C. both Ts’i and Lu had endeavoured to crush them.
As to the state of Ts’in, there is not a single instance given of any literary conversation or correspondence held by an orthodox high functionary with a Ts’in statesman. While it is not yet quite clear that orthodox China can shake herself entirely free of the reproach of human sacrifices in all senses, it is quite certain that Ts’in had a barbarous and exclusive notoriety in this regard’; and, as the Hiung-nu Tartars also practised it, and Ts’in was at least half Tartar in blood, it is probable that she derived her sanguinary notions from this blood connection with the Turko- Scythian tribes. On the death of the Ts’in ruler in 678 B.C., the first recorded human sacrifices were made, “sixty-six individuals following the dead.” In 621, on the death of the celebrated Duke Muh, 177 persons lost their lives, and the people of Ts’in, in pity, “composed the Yellow Bird Ode” (of these popular Chinese odes more anon). This holocaust was given as one reason why Ts’in could never “rule in the East,” i.e. assume the Protectorate over the orthodox powers all lying to its east, on account of this cruel defect in its laws. In 387 B.C., the new Earl of Ts’in (who succeeded a nephew, and therefore could, having no paternal duty to fulfil, introduce the innovation more cheaply) abolished the principle of human sacrifices at the death of a ruler. Ten years later, the Emperor’s astrologer paid a visit to Ts’in;–evidence that the imperial civilizing influence was still, at least morally, active, This astrologer and historiographer, whose name was Tan, is interesting, inasmuch as he has been confused with Li Tan (the personal name of the philosopher Lao- tsz, who was also an imperial official employed in the historiographical department). It is added that, previous to this visit, for five hundred years Ts’in and Chou had kept apart from each other. Notwithstanding this prohibition of human sacrifices, when the First August Emperor of Universal China died in 210 B.C., the old Ts’in custom was reintroduced, and all his women who had not given birth to children were buried with him. Besides this, all the workmen who had made the secret door and passage to his grave were cemented in alive, so that they might never disclose the secret of its approaches.
It was only after gradually adopting Chinese civilization that Ts’in began to be a considerable power; thus, when Ki-chah of Wu was entertained at Lu with specimens of the various styles of music, he observed, on being regaled with Ts’in music: “Ah! civilized sounds; it has succeeded in refining itself; it is in occupation of the old Chou appanage.” So late as 361 B.C., when Ngwei (one of the three royal subdivisions of old Tsin) built a wall to keep off Ts’in, both Ngwei and Ts’u (which by this time was quite as good orthodox Chinese as any other state) treated Ts’in as though the latter were still barbarian, In 326 Ts’in first introduced into her realm the well-known year-end sacrifices of the orthodox Chinese, which fact alone points to a long isolation of Ts’in before this date.
The rule of succession in Ts’in seems to have been of the Tartar kind at one time. Duke Muh, in 660 B.C., succeeded his brother, though that brother had seven sons of his own living: that brother again, had also succeeded a brother.
As to Yueeh, there is no question as to its barbarism, though the one single king around whose name centres the whole glory of Yiieh (Kou-tsien, 496-475) seems to have been a man of great ability and some fine feeling. The native name for Yiieh was Yue-yueeh, as stated in Chapter VII.; and it seems likely that all the coast of China down to Tonquin, or Northern Annam, was then inhabited by cognate tribes, all having the syllable Yueeh, or Viet, in their names. The great empire or kingdom of Yiieh, founded upon the ruins of Wu, soon split up into the “Hundred Yiieh,” i.e. (probably) it relapsed into its native barbarism, and ceased to cohere as a political factor. “Southern Yueeh” (the Canton region) has undoubted historical connections with the Tonquin part of Annam, and several other of the subdivisions of Yiieh, corresponding to Foochow, Wenchow, etc., show distinct traces of having belonged to the same race. But it is unsafe to say how the Chinese-transcribed name Yii-yiieh was pronounced; still more unsafe is it to argue that it must have been U or O-viet simply because the Annamese so pronounce the word now. We have seen that, according to one historical statement, the Wu and Yiieh people spoke the same language; in which case the members of the ruling Wu caste who fled to Japan in 473 B.C. were probably not of the same race as the “savages around them.” As an act of bravado, in 481, the King of Wu made five condemned centurions cut their own throats before the Tsin envoy, in order to show what effectively stern discipline he kept, In 484 the King of Yiieh had already committed a similar act of bravado; but neither of these barbarian states is distinctly recorded to have indulged in human sacrifices at the death of a sovereign. Previous to the crushing of Wu by Yiieh, in 473 B.C., Yiieh was nearly annihilated by Wu, and on this occasion Kou-tsien’s envoy advanced crawling on his knees to beg for mercy; this is hardly an orthodox Chinese custom. However barbarous Yiieh may have been, its ruling house possessed traditions of descent, through a concubine, from an emperor of the Hia dynasty; for which reason the founder was enfeoffed, near modern Shao-hing, west of Ningpo, in order to fulfil the sacrifices to the founder of the Hia dynasty, who was, and is, supposed to be buried there: like the first colonists who migrated to Wu, he cut his hair, tattooed himself, opened up the jungle, and built a town. In 330 B.C. Kou- tsien’s descendant spoke of “taking the road left to Chu- hia,” through modern Ho Nan province; that means taking the high-road to China proper. The term originated in times when Ts’u had not yet become a recognized “Hia.” The fact that Yueeh, with its new capital then in Shan Tung, could never govern the Yang-tsz and Hwai inland regions, seems to prove that her power was always purely a water power, and that she was comparatively ignorant of land campaigns.