Ancient China Simplified
by Edward Harper Parker
Public Domain Books
Chapter XXXVI - Ancient Japan
The development of China is not only elucidated by documents and events probably antecedent to the strictly historical period, such as the supposed voyage of an Emperor to the Far West, but it is also made easier to understand when we consider its possible indirect effects upon Japan. The barbarian kingdom of Wu does not really appear in Chinese history at all, even by name, until the year 585 B.C. It was found then that it had traditions of its own, and a line of kings extending back to the beginning of the Chou dynasty (1122 B.C.), and even farther beyond. In 585 B.C. the new King, Shou-meng, hitherto an unknown and obscure vassal of Ts’u, altogether beyond the ken of orthodox China, felt quite strong enough, as we have seen in Chapter VII., to strike out an independent line of his own. It is a singular thing that, when the Japanese set about constructing a nomenclature (on Chinese posthumous lines) for their newly discovered back history in the eighth century A.D., they should have fixed upon exactly this year 585 B.C. for the death of their supposed first Mikado Jimmu (i.e. Shen-wu, the “divinely martial”). The next three Kings of Wu, all of whom, like himself, bore dissyllabic and meaningless barbarian names, were sons of Shou-meng, and a fourth son was the cultured Ki-chah, who visited orthodox China several times, both as a spy and in order to improve himself. Then follow two sons of the last and first, respectively, of the said three brothers. The second of these royal cousins was killed in battle, and his son Fu-ch’ai vowed a terrible, vengeance against Ts’u, whose capital he subsequently took and sacked in 506 B.C. Now appears upon the scene his own vassal, Yiieh, and at first Wu gets the best of it in battle. Bloodthirsty wars follow between the two, full of picturesque and convincing detail, until at last the King of Yiieh, in turn, has the King of Wu at his mercy; but he was, though a barbarian, magnanimously disposed, and accordingly he offered Fu-ch’ai the island of Chusan (so well known to us on account of our troops having occupied it in 1840) and three hundred married families to keep him company. But Fu-ch’ai was too proud to accept this Elba, the more especially so because he had it on his conscience that he had been acting throughout against the earnest advice of his faithful minister (a Ts’u renegade), whom he had put to death for his frankness. This adviser as he perished had cried out: “Don’t forget to pluck my eyes out and stick them on the east gate, so that I may witness the entry of the Yiieh troops!” He therefore committed suicide, first veiling his face because, as he said: “I have no face to offer my adviser when I meet him in the next world; if, on the other hand, the dead have no knowledge, then it does not matter what I do.” After the beginning of our Christian era, when the direct communication between Japan (overland via Corea) and China (also by sea to Wu) was first officially noticed by the historians, it was recorded by the Chinese annalists that part of Fu-ch’ai’s personal following had escaped in ships towards the east, and had founded a state in Japan. But it must not be forgotten that then (473 B.C.) orthodox China had never yet heard of Japan in any form, though of course it is possible that the maritime states of Wu and Yiieh may have had junk intercourse with many islands in the Pacific.
We have already ventured upon a few remarks upon this subject in Chapter XXIII., but so much is apt to be made out of slight historical materials-such, for instance, as the pleasure expedition of a Chinese emperor in 984 B.C. to the Tarim Valley– that it may be useful to suggest the true proportions, and the modest possible bearing of this “Japanese” migration–assuming the slender record of it to be true; and the basis of truth is by no means a broad one; still less is it capable of sustaining a heavy superstructure.
Any one visiting Japan will notice that there are several distinct types of men in that country, the squat and vulgar, the oval-faced and refined, and many variations of these two; just as, in England, we have the Norman, Saxon, Irish, and Scotch types of face, with many other nuances. It is also clear from the kitchen-midden and other prehistoric remains; from the presence, even now, in Japan of the bearded Ainus (a word meaning in their own language “men”); and from the numerous accounts of Ainu- Japanese wars in both Chinese and Japanese history, that there were (as there still are) manners, and possibly yet other men, in ancient Japan, both very different from the manners and appearance of the cultured and gifted race, viewed as a homogeneous whole, we are now so proud to have as our political allies. But that brings us no nearer a historical solution, It is a persistent way with all ethnologists to search out whence this or that race came. Of course all races move and mingle, and must always have moved and mingled, when by so doing they could better their circumstances of life; but even if movement has taken place in Japan as it has elsewhere, there is no reason why, if comparatively uncivilized Japanese displaced Ainus, Ainus should not have, before that, displaced quite uncivilized Japanese; or, if other races came over the seas to displace the people already there, the natives already there should not have, later on, ejected these new-comers by sea routes.
In other words, it is quite futile (unless we can lay hands on definite objects, or definite facts recorded–even definite traditions) to try and account for hypothetical movements in prehistoric times. We are totally ignorant of early Teutonic, Hungarian, and Celtic movements-though, thanks solely to Chinese records, we are pretty certain, within defined limits, about early Turkish movements. How much more, then, must we be ignorant about the Japanese movements? If “people” must have come from somewhere, whence did these arrivals start, and why should they not go back; or why not meet other movers going to the place whence they themselves started? If we are to accept the only historical records or quasi-records we possess at all, that is, the Chinese records, then we must accept them for what they are worth on the face of them, and neither add to nor mutilate them; imperfect things that do exist are necessarily better than imaginary things that might have existed in their place. A few hundred families at most, we are told, escaped; and if it be true that they went intentionally to Japan, it is probable that the expert Wu sailors (none existed elsewhere in China) had already for long known the way thither, or to Quelpaert and Tsushima, which practically means to both Corea and Japan; in fact, if they sailed east from Ningpo, there is no other place to knock up against, even if the special intention were not there. Everything tends to show that Fu-ch’ai, though perhaps a barbarian in 473 B.C., was of orthodox if remote pedigree dating from 1200 B.C., and that the ruling class of Wu was very different from the “barbarians” by whom (as we are specifically told) Wu was surrounded; the situation was like that of the Egyptians and Phoenicians, like Cecrops and Cadmus, amongst the earliest barbarous Greeks. It amounts, then, to this, that, just as Chinese colonies and adventurers emerged under the stress of increased population, or under the impulses of curiosity, tyranny, and ambition, to found states in Ts’u, Ts’in, Tsin, Ts’i, Lu, Wu, Yueeh, and other places round the central nucleus, so (they being the sole possessors of that magic POWER, “records”) other parties would from time to time sally forth either from the same orthodox centre, or from the semi-orthodox places surrounding that centre, to still remoter spots, such as, for instance, Corea, Japan, Formosa, Annam, Burma, Tibet, and Yiin Nan. Fu-ch’ai’s surviving friends had indeed a very lively stimulus indeed-the fear of instant death-to drive them tumultuously over the seas; and doubtless, as they must have been perfectly harmless after tossing about hungry in open boats for weeks together, they would be as welcome to the Japanese king, or to the petty chief or chiefs who received the waifs, as in our own times was the honest sailor Will Adams when he drifted friendless to Japan, and whose statue now adorns a great Japanese city as that of a man who was, in a humble way, also a “civilizer” of Japan (600 A.D.). Doubtless, many Wu words, or Chinese words as then pronounced in Wu, had already been brought over by fishermen; but here at last was a great haul of (possibly) books and the way to interpret them; at least there was a great haul of the best class of the Wu ruling folk. It is true that the first Japanese envoys who came to China made as much of their Wu “origin” as they could; firstly, because it probably paid them as traders to do so; secondly, because it necessarily gave them a respectable status in China; and, thirdly, because they were, in the first century of our era, gradually beginning to understand the mystic power of the Chinese written character, and they would therefore naturally take an intense interest in all records, rumours, traditions, and fables about themselves, which they would embellish and “confirm" whenever it suited their interests to do so. Which of us does not begin to furbish up his pedigree when he is made a peer of the realm?
As to the bulk of the Japanese race, be it mixed or unmixed, it is surely in the main to be found now where it always was, or close by? It is no more depreciating to early Japan to give her a dynasty of Chinese adventurers, or perhaps to give her only hereditary Chinese advisers and scribes, than it is derogatory to the states of Europe to possess dynasties which belong by their origin, as a general rule, to almost any place but the countries they now govern as sovereigns. As to the ancient chiefs or kings of Japan, some of their genuine native names may have been preserved in the memories of men; whether they were or not, they were, even without records, as “ancient” chiefs as the best recorded chiefs of Egypt, Babylonia, or China; and it must be remembered that Egyptian and Babylonian records were non-existent to us for all practical purposes during many thousands of years, until we recently discovered how to read them: that is to say, what was once no history at all–the present condition of the prehistoric races of High Asia–suddenly becomes history when we find the records and know how to read them.
When, a few centuries later on, the Japanese had begun thoroughly to understand Chinese books, they decided to have an historical outfit of their own; they took what vague traditions they had, and, in the absence of any long-forgotten genuine records, or visible remains having part of the effect of records, simply fitted on to their heroes, real or imaginary, the Chinese posthumous system, and a selection of the historical facts recorded about the Chinese. Even the Emperor Muh in China was not so named until he died. If a man can be given a complimentary title three years after death (that was the Chinese rule at first), why not give it him 300 years after his death? The king or chief hitherto known, whether accurately or not, whether honestly or not, as X, had most certainly existed; that is, the tenth great-grandfather of the reigning prince; the ninth, eighth, and so on; must positively have been there at some remote period of the past. By calling him Jimmu (a Chinese emperor had already been posthumously so called) he is none the less there than he was before he was called Jimmu, and his new title therefore does not make him less of an entity than he was before. And so on with all the other Japanese emperors who, in the eighth century A.D., were similarly provided with imaginary names. Possibly this is how the Japanese argued with themselves when they set about the task. The situation is a curious one, and perhaps unique in the world; but it does not matter much (as suggested in Chapter XXXI.) so long as we keep imagination separate from real evidence.