Ancient China Simplified
by Edward Harper Parker
Public Domain Books
Chapter III - The Northern Powers
We have already alluded to a princely family, of the same clan- name as the Chou Emperor, which had settled in the southern part of modern Shan Si province, and had thus acted as a sort of buffer state to the imperial domain by keeping off from it the Tartar- Turk tribes in the north. This family was enfeoffed by the new Chou dynasty in 1106 B.C. to replace the extremely ancient princely house which had reigned there ever since the earliest Emperors ruled from that region (2300 B.C.), but which had resisted the Chou conquest, and had been exterminated. Nothing definite is known of what transpired in this principality subsequently to the infeoffment of 1106 B.C., and prior to the events of 771 B.C., at which latter date the ruling prince, hearing of the disaster to his kinsman the Emperor, went to meet that monarch’s fugitive successor, and escorted him eastwards to his new capital. This metropolis had, as we have explained already, been marked out some 340 years before this, and had continued to be one of the chief spiritual and political centres in the imperial domain; but for some reason it had never before 771 B.C. been officially declared a capital, or at all events the capital. Confucius, in his history, does not mention at all the petty semi-Tartar state of which we are now speaking before 671 B.C., and all that we know of its doings during this century of time is that rival factions, family intrigues, and petty annexations at the cost of various Tartar tribes, and of small, but ancient, Chinese principalities, occupied most of its time. It must be repeated here, however, that, notwithstanding Tartar neighbours, the valley of the River Fen had been the seat of several of China’s oldest semi-mythical emperors-possibly even of dynasties,-and at no time do the Tartars seem to have ever succeeded in ousting the Chinese from South Shan Si. The official name of the region after the Chou infeoffment of 1106 B.C. was the State of Tsin, and it was roughly divided off to the west from its less civilized colleague Ts’in by the Yellow River, on the right bank of which Tsin still possessed a number of towns. It is particularly difficult for Europeans to realize the sharp distinction in sound between these two names, the more especially because we have in the West no conception whatever of the effect of tone upon a syllable It may be explained, however, that the sonant initial and even-voiced tone in the one case, contrasted with the surd initial and the scaled tone in the other, involves to the Chinese mind a distinction quite as clear in all dialects as the European distinction in all languages between the two states of Prussia and Russia, or between the two peoples Swedes and Swiss: it is entirely the imperfection of our Western alphabet, not at all that of the spoken sounds or the ideographs, that is at fault.
The Yellow River, running from north to south, not only roughly separated from each other these two Tartar-Chinese buffer states in the north-west, but the same Yellow River, flowing east, and its tributary, the River Wei, also formed a rough boundary between the two states of Tsin and Ts’in (together) to the north, and the innumerable petty but ancient Chinese principalities surrounding the imperial domain to the south. These principalities or settlements were scattered about among the head-waters of the Han River and the Hwai River systems, and their manifest destiny, if they needed expansion, clearly drove them further southwards, following the courses of all these head-waters, towards the Yang- tsz Kiang. But, more than that, the Yellow River, after thus flowing east for several hundred miles, turned sharp north in long. 114o E., as already explained, and thence to the north-east formed a second rough boundary between Tsin and nearly all the remaining orthodox Chinese states. Tsin’s chief task was thus to absorb into its administrative system all the Tartar raiders that ventured south to the Yellow River.
But there was a third northern state engaged in the task of keeping back the Tartar tribes, and in developing a civilization of its own-based largely, of course, upon Chinese principles, but modified so as to meet local exigencies. This was the state of Ts’i, enclosed between the Yellow River to the west and the sea to the east, but extending much farther north than the boundaries of modern Shan Tung province, if, indeed, the embouchure of the Yellow River, near modern Tientsin, did not form its northern boundary; but the promontory or peninsula, as well as all the coast, was still in the hands of “barbarian” tribes (now long since civilized and assimilated), of which for many centuries past no separate trace has remained. We have no means of judging now whether these “barbarians” were uncultured, close kinsmen of the orthodox Chinese; or remote kinsmen; or quite foreign. When the Chou principality received an invitation by acclamation to conquer and administer China in 1122, an obscure political worthy from these eastern parts placed his services as adviser and organizer at the command of the new Chou Emperor, in return for which important help he received the fief of Ts’i. Although obscure, this man traced his descent back to the times when (2300 B.C.) his ancestors received fiefs from the most ancient Emperors. From that time down to the year 1122 B.C., and onwards to the events of 771 B.C., nothing much beyond the fact of the Chou infeoffment is recorded; but after the Emperor had been killed by the Tartar- Tibetans, this state of Ts’i also began to grow restive; and the seventh century before Christ opens with the significant statement that “Ts’in, Tsin, and Ts’i, now begin to be powerful states.” Of the three, Tsin alone bore the imperial Chou clan-name of Ki.
1. In 2200 B.C. the Yellow River was divided at the point where our map begins, and the main waters were conducted to the River Chang, which thus formed one river with it. But a secondary branch was conducted eastwards to the Rivers T’ah and Tsi (now, 1908, the Yellow River).
2. In 602 B.C. this secondary branch suddenly turned north, followed the line of the present (1908) Grand Canal, and joined the main branch, i.e. the River Chang.
3. The capitals of Ts’i and Lu are shown. The Yellow River divided Tsin from Ts’i, but Tartars harried the whole dividing line.]
North of the Yellow River, where it then entered the sea near the modern treaty-port of Tientsin, there was yet another great vassal state, called Yen, which had been given by the founders of the Chou dynasty to a very distinguished blood relative and faithful supporter: this noble prince has been immortalized in beautiful language on account of the rigid justice of his decisions given under the shade of an apple-tree: it was the practice in those days to render into popular song the chief events of the times, and it is not improbable, indeed, that this Saga literature was the only popular record of the past, until, as already hinted, after 827 B.C., writing became simplified and thus more diffused, instead of being confined to solemn manifestoes and commandments cast or carved on bronze or stone.
“Oh! woodman, spare that tree, Touch not a single bough, His wisdom lingers now.”
The words, singularly like those of our own well-known song, are known to every Chinese school-boy, and with hundreds, even thousands, of other similar songs, which used to be daily quoted as precedents by the statesmen of that primitive period in their political intercourse with each other, were later pruned, purified, and collated by Confucius, until at last they received classical rank in the “Book of Odes” or the “Classic of Poetry," containing a mere tenth part of the old “Odes” as they used to be passed from mouth to ear.
Even less is known of the early days of Yen than is known of Ts’in, Tsin, and Ts’i; there is not even a vague tradition to suggest who ruled it, or what sort of a place it was, before the Chou prince was sent there; all that is anywhere recorded is that it was a very small, poor, and feeble region, dovetailed in between Tsin and Ts’i, and exposed north to the harassing attacks of savages and Coreans (i.e. tribes afterwards enumerated as forming part of Corea when the name of Corea became known). The mysterious region is only mentioned here at all on account of its distinguished origin, in order to show that the Chinese cultivators had from the very earliest times apparently succeeded in keeping the bulk of the Tartars to the left bank of the Yellow River all the way from the Desert to the sea; because later on (350 B.C.) Yen actually did become a powerful state; and finally, because if any very early notions concerning Corea and Japanese islands had ever crept vaguely into China at all, it must have been through this state of Yen, which was coterminous with Liao Tung and Manchuria. The great point to remember is, the extensive territory between the Great Wall and the Yellow River then lay almost entirely beyond the pale of ancient China, and it was only when Ts’in, Tsin, Ts’i, and Yen had to look elsewhere than to the Emperor for protection from Tartar inroads that the centre of political gravity was changed once and for ever from the centre of China to the north.
We know nothing of the precise causes which conduced to unusual Tartar activity at the dawn of Chinese true history: in the absence of any Tartar knowledge of writing, it seems impossible now that we ever can know it. Still less are we in a position to speculate profitably how far the movements on the Chinese frontier, in 800-600 B.C., may be connected with similar restlessness on the Persian and Greek frontiers, of which, again, we know nothing very illuminating or specific. It is certain that the Chinese had no conception of a Tartar empire, or of a coherent monarchy, under the vigorous dominion of a great military genius, until at least five centuries after the Tartars, killed a Chinese Emperor in battle as related (771 B.C.). It is even uncertain what were the main race distinctions of the nomad aggregations, loosely styled by us “Tartars,” for the simple reason that the ambiguous Chinese terminology does not enable us to select a more specific word. Nevertheless, the Chinese do make certain distinctions; and, as what remains of aboriginal populations in the north, south, east, and west of China points strongly to the probability of populations in the main occupying the same sites that they did 3000 years ago (unless where specific facts point to a contrary conclusion), we may fairly assume that the distribution was then very much as now-beginning from the east, (1) Japanese, (2) Corean, (3) Tungusic, (4) Mongol-Turkish, (5) Turkish, (6) Turkish-Tibetan, and Mongol-Tibetan (or Mongol-Turkoid Tibetan), (7) Tibetan. The Chinese use four terms to express these relative quantities, which may be called X, Y, Z, and A. The term “X,” pure and simple, never under any circumstances refers to any but Tibetans (of whom at this time the Chinese had no recorded knowledge whatever except by name); but “X + Y” also refers to tribes in Tibetan regions. The term “West Y” seems to mean Tibetan-Tartars, and the term “North Y” seems to mean Mongoloid- Tunguses. There is a third Y term, “Dog Y,” evidently meaning Tartars of some kind, and not Tibetans of any sort. The term “Z" never refers to Tibetans, pure or mixed, but “Y + Z” loosely refers to Turks, Mongols, and Tunguses. The terms “Red Z”, “White Z,” and “North Z” seem to indicate Turks; and what is more, these colour distinctions–probably of clothing or head-gear-continue to quite modern times, and always in connection with Turks or Mongol- Turks. The fourth term “A” never occurs before the third century before Christ, and refers to all Tartars, Coreans, etc.; but not to Tibetans: it need not, therefore, be discussed at present. The modern province of Sz Ch’wan was absolutely unknown even by name; but several centuries later, as we shall shortly see, it turned out to be a state of considerable magnitude, with quite a little imperial history of its own: probably it was with this unknown state that the bulk of the Tibetans tried conclusions, if they tried them with China at all.
Be that as it may, the present wish is to make clear that at the first great turning-point in genuine Chinese history the whole of north and west China was in the hands of totally unknown powers, who completely shut in the Middle Kingdom; who only manifested themselves at all in the shape of occasional bodies of raiders; and who, if they had any knowledge, direct or indirect, of India, Tibet, Turkestan, Siberia, Persia, etc., kept it strictly to themselves, and in any case were incapable of communicating it in writing to the frontier Chinese populations of the four buffer states above enumerated.