Ancient China Simplified
by Edward Harper Parker
Public Domain Books
Chapter XXX - Literary Relations
It is instructive to inquire what were the literary relations between the distinguished statesmen and active princes who moved about quite freely within the limited area so frequently alluded to in foregoing pages as being sacrosanct to civilization and the rites. There seems good reason to suppose that the literary activity which so disgusted the destroyer of the books in 213 B.C. did not really begin until after Confucius’ death in 479; moreover, that the avalanche of philosophical works which drenched the royal courts of the Six Kingdoms was in part the consequence of Confucius’ own efforts in the literary line. In the pre- Confucian days there is little evidence of the existence of any literature at all beyond the Odes, the Changes, the Book, and the Rites, which, after a lapse of 2500 years or more, are still the “Bible” of China. The Odes, of which 3000 were popularly known previous to Confucius’ recension, seem to have been originally composed here and there, and passed from mouth to mouth, by the people of each orthodox state under impulse of strong passion, feeling, or suffering; or some of them may even have been committed to writing by learned folk in touch with the people. Naturally, those songs which specially treated of local matters would be locally popular; but it would seem that a large number of them must have been generally known by heart by the whole educated body all over orthodox China, It will be remembered that in the year 1900, an enterprising American newspaper correspondent took advantage of President Kruger’s penchant for quoting Scripture, and telegraphed to him daily texts, selected as applicable to the event, for which the replies to be sent were always prepaid. For instance, on news of a British victory, the American would telegraph: “Victory stayeth not always with the righteous"; on which President Kruger would promptly rejoin: “Yet shall I smite him, even unto the end.” This was the plan followed by Chinese envoys, statesmen, and princes in their intercourse with each other: no matter what event transpired, Ki-chah, or Tsz-ch’an, or Shuh Hiang would illustrate it with an ode, or with a reference to the “Book” (of history), or by an appeal to the Rites of Chou, or to some obscure astrological or cosmogonical development extracted from the mystic diagrams of “The Changes.” As often as not, the quotations given from the Odes and Book no longer exist in the editions of those two classics which have come down to us. This fact is interesting as proving that the Tso Chwan–or Commentary of Confucius’ pupil Tso K’iu-ming on Confucius’ own bare notes of history– must have been written before Confucius’ expurgated Book of Odes reduced and fixed the number of selected songs; or, at all events, the records from which Tso K’iu-ming took his quotations must have existed before either he or Confucius composed their respective annals and comments. In the times when a book the size of a three-volume novel of to-day would mean a mule-load of bamboo splinters or wooden tablets, it is absurd to suppose that generals in the field, or envoys on the march, could carry their Odes bodily about with them: it is even probable that the four “scriptural” books in question were exclusively committed to memory by the general public, and that not more than half a dozen varnish-written copies existed in any state; possibly not more than one copy. In fact, the only available literary exhilaration then open to cultured friends was to check the memory on visiting strange lands by comparing the texts of Odes, Changes, or Book. A knowledge of the Rites would perhaps be confined to the ruling classes almost entirely, for with them it lay to pronounce the religious, the ritual, the social, or the administrative sanction applicable to each contested set of circumstances. It is very much as though,–as was indeed the case in Johnsonian times,–the French, English, and German wits of the day, and occasionally distinguished literary specimens of even more “barbarous” countries, should at a literary conference indulge in quotations from Horace or Juvenal by way of passing the time: they would not select the Twelve Tables or the Laws of the Pr’tors as matter for the testing of learning.
To take a few instances. In 559 the ruler of Wei had severely beaten his court music-master for failing to teach a concubine how to play the lute. One day the prince invited to dinner some statesmen, the father of one of whom had taken offence at the prince’s rudeness; and he ordered the same musician to strike up the last stanza of a certain ode hinting at treason, which the malicious performer did in such a way as to give further offence to the father through his son, and to bring about the dethronement of the indiscreet prince. It gives us confidence in the truth of these anecdotes when we find that K’ue-peh-yueh was consulted by the offended father as to what course he ought to pursue. This Wei statesman, who has already been twice mentioned in connection with other matters, met Ki-chah of Wu when the latter visited that state in 544, and he was also an admired senior acquaintance of Confucius himself, whom he twice lodged at his house for many months. Three Chapters of the “Book” still remain, after Confucius’ manipulations of it, to prove how Wei was first enfeoffed by the Duke of Chou, and one of the Odes actually sings the praises of a Ts’i princess who married the prince of Wei in 753 B.C. Thus we see that the ancient classics are intertwined and mutually corroborative.
When the Second Protector (the last of the four Tartar-born brothers to succeed to the Tsin throne) was on his wanderings in 644 B.C., the Marquess of Ts’i gave him a daughter, of whom he became so enamoured that he seemed to be neglecting his political chances amid the pleasures of a foreign country, instead of endeavouring to regain his rightful throne at home. This princess first of all quoted an ode from the group treating of CHENG affairs, and secondly cited an apt saying from what she “had heard” the great Ts’i philosopher Kwan-tsz had said, her object being to promote her lively husband’s political interests. This all took place a few years after Kwan-tsz’s death, and 200 years after the founding of CHENG state, and is therefore indirect confirmation of the fact that Kwan-tsz was already a well-known authority, and that contemporary affairs were usually “sung of” in all the orthodox states.
When the Duke of Sung, after the death in 628 B.C. of the picturesque personality just referred to, was ambitious to become the Third Protector of orthodox China and of the Emperor; Confucius’ ancestor, then a Sung statesman, approved of this ambition, and proceeded to compose some complimentary sacrificial odes on the Shang dynasty (from which the Sung ducal family was descended): some learned critics make out that it was the music- master of the Emperor who really composed these odes for the ancestor of Confucius. In any case, there the odes are still, in the Book of Odes as revised by Confucius himself about 150 years later; and here accordingly–we have specific indirect evidence of Confucius’ own origin; of the “spiritual” power still possessed by the Emperor’s court; and of the “Poet Laureate"-like political uses to which odes were put in the international life of the times. This foolish Duke of Sung, who was so anxious to pose as Protector, was the one already mentioned in Chapters X. and XIV., who would not attack an enemy whilst crossing a stream.
Again, in the year 651, when one of the least popular of the four Tartar-born brethren was, with the assistance of the Ts’in ruler (who had been over-persuaded against his own better judgment), reigning in Tsin, the children of this latter state sang a ballad in the streets, prophesying the ultimate success of the self- sacrificing elder brother, then still away on his wanderings in Tartarland. This song was apparently never included among the 3000 odes generally known in China; but it illustrates how such popular songs and popular heroes were created and perpetuated.–It is, perhaps, time now that we should give the personal name of this popular prince, of whom we have spoken so often, and who is as well known to Chinese tradition as the severe Brutus ’is, or as the ravishing Tarquin was, to old Roman history. His name was Ch’ung-erh, or “the double-eared,” in allusion to some peculiarity in the lobes of his ears; besides which, two of his ribs were believed to be joined in one piece: his great success is perhaps largely owing to his robust and manly appearance, which certainly secured for him the eager attentions of the ladies, whether Turks or Chinese. His Turkish wife had been as disinterestedly solicitous for his success, before he went to Ts’i, as his Ts’i wife was when she induced him to leave that country. On arrival in Ts’in, he was presented with five princesses, including one who had already been given to his nephew and immediate predecessor in Tsin. The “rites” were of course decidedly wrong here, but his ally Ts’in was at this time hesitating between Chinese and Tartar culture, and in any case he was probably persuaded in his mind to let the rites go by the board for urgent political purposes. On this occasion his brother-in-law and faithful henchman during nineteen years of wanderings, sang “the song of the fertilized millet” (still existing), meaning that Ch’ung-erh was the gay young stalk fertilized by the presents and assistance of the ruler of Ts’in: he was, by the way, not so young, then well over sixty. He had married the younger of two Tartar sisters, and had given her elder sister as wife to the henchman in question. (One account reverses the order.)
[Illustration: Original inscription on the Sacrificial Tripod, together with (1) transcription in modern Chinese character (to the right), and (2) an account of its history (to the left). Taken from Dr. Bushell’s “Chinese Art."]
Ts’u seems to have possessed a knowledge of ancient history and of literature at a very early date. In 597 B.C., after his victory over Tsin, the King of Ts’u had, as previously narrated, declined to rear a barrow over the corpses slain, and had said: “No! the written or pictograph character for ’soldierly’ is made up of two parts, one signifying ’stop,’ and the other ’weapons.’” By this he meant to say what the great philosopher Lao-tsz, himself a Ts’u man, over and over again inculcated; namely, that the true soldier does not glory in war, but mournfully aims at victory with the sole view of attaining rightful ends. Not only was this half- barbarian king thus capable of making a pun which from the pictograph point of view still holds good to-day, but he goes on in the same speech to cite the “peace-loving war” of Wu Wang, or the Martial King, founder of the Chou dynasty, and to cite several standard odes in allusion to it.
These examples might be multiplied a hundredfold, For instance, in the year 589 a Ts’u minister cites the Odes; in 575 a Tsin officer quotes the Book; in 569 another makes allusion to the ancient attempt made by the ruler of the then vassal Chou state, the father of the imperial Chou founder, and who was at the same time adviser at the imperial court, to reconcile the vassal princes to the legitimate Shang dynasty Emperor (who had already imprisoned him once out of pique at his remonstrances), before finally deciding to dethrone him. In 546 a Sung envoy cites the Odes to the Ts’u government, and also quotes from that section of the “Book” called the Book of the Hia Dynasty, In connection with the year 582 an ode is cited for the benefit of the King of Ts’u, which is not in Confucius’ collection. In 541 a Ts’u envoy, who was being entertained in Tsin at a convivial wine party, indulges in apt quotations from the Odes.
There does not seem to be one single instance where any one in Ts’in either sings an ode, quotes orthodox history, or in any way displays literary knowledge. Even the barbarian Kou-tsien, King of Yueeh, has wise saws and modern instances quoted to him in his distress. For instance, whilst hesitating about utterly annihilating the Wu reigning family, he was advised: “If one will not take gifts from Heaven, Heaven may send one misfortune.” This is a very hackneyed saying in ancient Chinese history, and is as much used to-day as it was 2500 years ago: it comes from the Book of Chou (now partly lost). It will be remembered that the distinguished Japanese statesman, Count Okuma, in his now notorious speech before the Kobe Chamber of Commerce on the 20th October, 1907, used these identical words to point the moral of Indian commerce. It is doubtful if any other really pregnant Japanese philosophical saying exists which cannot be similarly traced to China. In any case, Count Okuma was only literally carrying out in Kobe the policy of Tsin, Ts’u, Ts’i, and Wei statesmen of China 2500 years ago.
If, as we have assumed, standard books were usually committed to memory (and it must be remembered that the Odes, and much of the Book, the Changes, and the Rites are still so committed to memory in our own times), and were practically confined to the headquarters or the wealthy families of each state, the cognate question inevitably arises: What about the historical records? It has already been observed that Ts’in, the half-Tartar power in the extreme west, was the only state belonging to the recognized federal system (and that only since 771 B.C.) of which nothing literary is recorded, and which, though powerful enough to assist in making Emperors of Chou and rulers of Tsin, was never in Confucian times thought morally fit to act as Protector of the Imperial Federal Union, i.e. of Chu Hia, or “All the Chinas." By a singular irony of fate, however, it so happens that a few Ts’in inscriptions are the only political ones remaining to us of ancient Chinese documents.
When the outlying semi-Chinese states surrounding the inner conclave of orthodox Chinese states, after four centuries of fighting and intrigue for the Protectorate, or at least for preponderance, at last, during the period 400-375 B.C. became the Six Powers, all equally royal, none of them owing any real, scarcely even any nominal, allegiance to the once solitary King or Emperor, then it was that the idea began to enter the heads of the Ts’in statesmen and the rulers of at least three of the Six Royal Powers opposed to Ts’in that it would be a good thing to get rid of the old feudal vassal system root and branch. So unquestionably is this period 400-375 B.C. taken as one of the great pivot points in Chinese history, that the great historian Sz-ma Kwang begins his renowned history, the Tsz-chi Tung-kien, published in 1084 A.D., with the words: “In 403 B.C. the states of Han, Ngwei, and Chao were recognized as vassal ruling princes by the Emperor." Ts’in took to educating herself seriously for her great destiny, and at last, in 221 B.C., after the wars already described in Chapter XXVI., succeeded in uniting all known China under one centralized sway; rounding off the Tartars so as to make the Great Wall (rather than the Yellow River, as of old) their southern limit; conquering the remains of the “Hundred Yueeh” (the vague unknown South China which had hitherto been the special preserve of Ts’u;) and assimilating the ancient empire of Shuh (i.e. Sz Ch’wan, hitherto only vaguely known to orthodox China at all, and politically connected only with Ts’in).
During this process of universal assimilation and annexation, the almost supernaturally active First August Emperor made tour after tour throughout his new dominions, showing a special predilection for the coasts, for Tartarland, and for the Lower Yang-tsz River; but not venturing far up or far south of that Great River; and even when he did so venture a short distance, never leaving the old and well-known water routes: nor did he risk a land journey to Sz Ch’wan, to which country there were at the time no roads of any kind at all possible for armies. It is well known that both he and the legal, international, political, and diplomatical adventurers who had been for a century or more from time to time at his court had been strongly imbued with the somewhat revolutionary and then fashionable democratic principles of the new Taoism, as defined by the philosopher Lao-tsz; but he showed no particular hostility to orthodox literature until, whilst on his travels, deputations of learned men, especially in the ritual centres of Lu and Ts’i, began to suggest to him the re-establishment of the old feudal system, and to “quote the ancient scriptures” to him by way of protesting mildly against his too drastic political changes. It has been explained in Chapter XIII. that in 626 B.C., when his great ancestor Duke Muh had availed himself of the advisory services of an educated Tartar (of Tsin descent), this Tartar had made use of the expression: “The King of the Tartars governs in a simple, ready way, without the aid of the Odes and the Book as in the case of China.” Thus it was that, possibly with this ancient warning in his mind, he conceived a sudden, violent, and passionate hatred for didactic works generally, and two books in particular-the very two, passages from which pedants, philosophers, ambassadors, and ministers had for centuries hurled at each other’s heads alike in convivial, argumentative, and solemn moments. In other words, the Odes and the Book, together with Confucius’ “Springs and Autumns,” with its censorious hints for rulers, and all the other local Annals and Histories, were under anathema, But more detestable even than these were the new philosophical treatises of a polemical kind, which girded at monarchs through their subtle choice of words and anecdotes, or which recalled the good old times of the feudal emperors and their not very obsequious vassals. His self-laudatory inscriptions upon stone, scattered about as he travelled from place to place, tell us plainly, in his own royal words, that this hatred of presumptuous vassal claims was his prime motive in destroying all the pedants and books he could secure. He denounces the vassals of bygone times who ignored the Supreme Emperor, fought with each other, and had the insolence to “carve stone and metal in order to record their own deeds.” The Changes are quoted in history often enough by statesmen, as well as the Odes and the Book; but, even if the First August Emperor did not entertain the suspicion that the first were (as, indeed, they are according to our Western lights) all “hocus-pocus,” he was himself very credulous and superstitious, and the learned word-juggling of the Changes was in any case harmless to him; so that really his rage was confined to the four or five books, known by heart throughout China, setting forth the ancient ritual system of previous dynasties, as perfected by the Chou government; the subordination of all other kings (Ts’in included) to the Chou family; the wrath of Heaven, the divinity of the people, and so on. Things had been made worse during the Fighting State Period (480-230) by the extraordinary literary activity prevailing at the different royal courts, when the old royal tao had been interpreted in one way by Lao- tsz and his followers, in another by Confucius and his school; in countless others by the schools of Legists, Purists, Scholastics, Cosmogonists, Pessimists, Optimists, and so on. A clean sweep was accordingly made, so far as it was possible and practicable, of all literature, with the exception (amongst old books) of the Changes, and of practical modern or ancient books on astronomy, medicine, and agriculture. At the same time copies of the proscribed Odes and Book were kept on record at court for the use of the learned in the service of the Emperor. All “histories," except that of Ts’in, were utterly destroyed, and a fortiori all argumentative works on history or on administrative policy of any kind. The old Tartar blood and Tartar sympathies of the First August Emperor must surely re-appear in a policy so incompatible with all orthodox teaching? In one sense the blight upon Chinese civilization was akin to the blight cast upon that of Eastern Europe 500 years ago by the “unspeakable Turk.” The new ruler boldly said: “The world begins afresh, with me. No posthumous condemnatory titles for me! My successor will be ’August Emperor Number Two,’ and so on for ever." It was like the Vendemiaire in 1793.
Thus, except in so far as Confucius may have borrowed from local histories besides that of Lu in making up his “Springs and Autumns,” the Annals of Ts’in are the only annals of the feudal states (except the Bamboo Books, or Annals of Tsin, dug up in A.D. 281) now left to us. That there were such annals in each state is certain, for in 627 B.C. the “great historian” of Tsin is spoken of; and in 607 and 510 the names of the Tsin historians are given, in the first case apparently a Tartar. That there should be a Tsin Tartar versed in Chinese literature is not remarkable, for it was shown at the close of Chapter XIII. how a learned Tsin Tartar had acted as adviser to Duke Muh of Ts’in, and had left behind him a work in two Chapters, which was still in existence in 50 B.C. Under the year 628 B.C., one of the expanded versions of Confucius’ history explains how the anarchy which had then been for some time prevailing in Tsin led to certain Tsin events of the year 630 being omitted by Confucius; this is a very important statement, for it infers that Confucius made use of the Tsin annals. It is recorded of Confucius that when reading the Shi- ki ("Historical Annals”), he expressed very strong views when he came to the events of 632 and 598 B.C., that is, to the place where the “ordering up” of the Emperor by Tsin is described, and to the noble action of the “sage” King of Ts’u; it is interesting to know that this old name, Shi-ki, was chosen by the author of the first real history of China published under that title about 90 B.C., and that he was not the inventor of the name, which had already for centuries been applied in a general sense to the historical annals either of Lu or of China generally.
In 547 B.C. it is stated that the “great historian” of Ts’i made certain remarks: we have already seen in the present Chapter how the Ts’i wife of the Second Protector was in 640 B.C. perfectly well acquainted with the historical and philosophical works of Kwan-tsz, the great administrative innovator of Ts’i under the First Protector. In the second century B.C. Kwan-tsz’s work of eighty-six Chapters was placed at the head of the Taoist works (of course before Taoism became Lao-tsz’s speciality). It is mentioned, quite casually, in the year 538, in a political conversation which took place with the King of Ts’u, that the First Protector of Ts’i in the year 647 B.C. had had to contend with the serious rebellion of a subject (who is named). All circumstances point to the truth of this isolated, but otherwise most specific statement; yet it is not mentioned elsewhere,– evidence, if it were wanted, that many historical works, from which facts were borrowed as though the details were well known to all, must have disappeared entirely.
As to Ts’u, its Annals were known by the curious name of “Stinking Wood,” by which it is supposed that the evil recorded of men upon wooden tablets was meant. That Ts’u subsequently developed a high literary capacity is evident, for the anniversary of the suicide of the celebrated Ts’u poet K’ueh Yiian (envoy to Ts’i during the fierce diplomatic intrigues of 31 B.C.) has been kept up as the annual “dragon festival” down to our own times, in memory of his suicide by drowning in the Tung-t’ing Lake district; and his poems are amongst the most beautiful in the Chinese language. In 656 B.C. the dictatorial First Protector tried to play the role of the wolf, with Ts’u in the character of the lamb: he said: “How is it you have not for so many generations past sent your tribute of sedge to the Emperor? How about the other Emperor who visited (modern) Hankow in 1003 B.C. and was never heard of again?” The King replied: “As to our failure to send tribute, we admit it; as to the supposed murder of the Emperor 350 years ago, you had better ask the people of Hankow themselves what they know of it." (Ts’u had hardly yet permanently advanced so far east.)
In 496 B.C. it is recorded of a scholar at the Emperor’s court that, being anxious to see his own name in the “Springs and Autumns,” he suggested to the Emperor that for a long time no complimentary mission had been sent to Lu. The result was that he was sent himself, and is thus immortalized: it does not follow from this that the knowledge of Confucius’ coming book had penetrated to the Chou court, because “Springs and Autumns” was already the accepted term in Lu for “Annals,” long before Confucius adopted the already existing general name for his own particular work. In 496 Confucius had left Lu in disgust, and had gone to Wei–the capital of Wei was then on, or near, the then Yellow River (now the River Wei), between the two towns marked “Hwa” and “K’ai” on modern maps–where he collected materials for his History; but he did not begin it until the year 481; so probably the ambitious scholar simply hoped to appear in the “Springs and Autumns” of Lu, as they had already been called before Confucius borrowed the name, just as Sz-ma Ts’ien borrowed the name Shi-ki.
As to Ts’in, Ts’in’s own Annals tell us that “in 753 B.C. historians were first established to keep record of events.” Hence even the Ts’in records, the sole annals preserved from the flames, must be retrospective from that date. In any case they contain nothing of historical importance farther back than 753 B.C., except the wars with Tartars; the accompanying of the Emperor Muh, as charioteer, by a Ts’in prince on the occasion of his “going to examine his fiefs in the west"; and the cession of the old Chou appanage to Ts’in in 771. By their baldness, and by the baldness of the Bamboo Books, and of Confucius’ own “Springs and Autumns," we may fairly judge of the probable insufficiency and dryness of the Annals of Ts’u, Ts’i, Wei, CHENG, Sung, and other states interested in the welter of the Fighting State Period. Early Chinese annals contain little more satisfying than the “generations of Adam” in the fifth Chapter of Genesis.