Ancient China Simplified
by Edward Harper Parker
Public Domain Books
Chapter XXXIX - Geographical Knowledge
It will have been noticed that, even in strictly historical times subsequent to 842 B.C., orthodox China was, mutatis mutandis, like orthodox Greece, a petty territory surrounded by a fringe of little-known regions, such as Macedonia, Asia Minor, Phoenicia, Egypt, and Italy; not to say distant Marseilles, and the Pillars of Hercules-all places at best very little visited except by navigators, and even then only by a few specially enterprising navigators or desperate adventurers; though later on Greek influence and Greek colonies soon began to replace the Phoenician, and to exhibit surrounding countries in a more correct and definite light.
As touches the surrounding regions of ancient China, and the knowledge of it possessed by the orthodox nucleus, such traditions as there are all point to acquaintance with the south and east rather than with the north and west. Persons who are persistently bent on bringing the earliest Chinese from the Tower of Babel by way of the Tarim Valley, are eager to seize upon the faintest tradition, or what seems to them an apparent tradition, in support of these preconceived views; ignoring the obviously just argument that, if we are to pay any attention to mere traditions at all, we must in common fairness give priority in value to such traditions as there are, rather than such traditions as are not, but only as might be. For instance, there was a Chinese tradition that the founder of the Hia dynasty (2205 B.C.) was, in a sense, somehow connected with the barbarous kingdom of Yiieh, inasmuch as the great-great-grandson of the founder of the Hia empire a century later enfeoffed a son by a concubine in that remote region. The earliest Chinese mention of Japan is that it lay to the east of Yiieh, and that the Japanese used to come and trade with Yiieh. If the Japanese traditions, on the other hand, as first put into independent writing in the eighth century A.D., are worth anything, then the Japanese pretend that their ancestors were present at a durbar held by the above-mentioned great-great- grandson of the Hia founder; and they also firmly derive their ruling houses (both king and princes) from the kingdom of Wu. We have seen in former Chapters that both Wu and Yiieh, the most ancient capitals of which were within 200 miles of each other, spoke one language, and that both were derived (i.e., the administrative caste was derived) from two separate Chinese imperial dynasties. Now, the founder of the Hia dynasty is celebrated above all things for his travels in, and his geography of China, usually called the “Tribute of Yii” (his name),–a still existing work, the real origin of which may be obscure, but which has come down to us in the Book (of History). This geography is not only accurate, but it even now throws great light upon the original direction of river-courses which have since changed; in this work there is not the faintest tradition or indirect mention of any Chinese having ever migrated into China from the west.
There is no foundation, however, for the supposition, favoured by some European writers, that the Nine Tripods (frequently mentioned above) contained upon their surface “maps” of the empire; they merely contained a summary, or a collection of pictures, symbolizing the various tribute nations. On the other hand, there is no trace in the “Tribute of Yii” of any knowledge of China south of the Yarig-tsz River, south of its mouths, and south of its connection with the lakes of Hu Nan. The “province” of Yang Chou is vaguely said to extend from the Hwai River “south to the sea.” The “Blackwater” is the only river mentioned which exhibits any knowledge of the west (i.e. of the west half of modern Kan Suh province), and this “Blackwater” was crossed in 984 B.C. by the Emperor Muh.
Then there is the tradition of Vii’s predecessor, the Emperor Shun, who, as mentioned in the last Chapter, married the two daughters of the Emperor Yao, and is buried at a point just south of the Lake Tung-t’ing, in the modern province of Hu Nan: it is certain that in 219 B.C., when the First August Emperor was on tour, the mountain where the grave lay was pointed out to him at a distance, if he did not actually go up to it. Again, the grandfather of the Warrior King who founded the Chou dynasty in 1122 B.C. was, as already repeatedly pointed out, only a younger brother, his two elder brothers having migrated to the Jungle, and, proceeding thence eastward, founded a colony in Wu (half-way between Nanking and Shanghai). Both Wu and Yiieh, for very many centuries after that, were extremely petty states of only 50 or 60 miles in extent, and for all practical purposes of history may be considered to have been one and the same region, to wit, the flat, canal-cut territory through which the much-disputed Shanghai- Hangchow railway is to run. After the death of the Martial King, when his brother the Duke of Chou was Regent for his son, the duke incurred the suspicion of other brethren and relatives as to his motives, and had to retire for some time to Ts’u, or, as it was then called, the Jungle country, for two years. There is a tradition that a mission from one of the southern Yiieh states found its way to the Duke of Chou, who is supposed to have fitted up for the envoys a cart with a compass attached to it, in order to keep the cart’s head steadily south. This tradition, which only appears as a tradition in one of the dynastic histories of the fifth century A. D., is not given at all in the earlier standard history, and it is by no means proved that the undoubtedly early Chinese knowledge of the loadstone extended to the making of compasses. Yet, as Renan has justly pointed out in effect, in his masterly evidences of Gospel truth, a weak tradition is better worth considering than no tradition at all. Besides, there is some slight indirect confirmation of this, for in 880 B.C. or thereabout, a King of Ts’u gave one of his younger sons a Yiieh kingdom bearing almost the same double name as that Yueeh kingdom from which the envoys in 1080 B.C. came to the Duke of Chou; in each case the first part of the double name was Yiieh, and the second part only differed slightly. Again, in or about 820, some of the sons of the king exiled themselves to a place vaguely defined as “somewhere south of the Han River,” which can scarcely mean anything other than “the country of the Shan or Siamese races,” who lived then in and around Yiin Nan, and some of whom are still known by the vague name used as here in 820 B.C. The vagueness of habitat simply means that all south of the Han and Yang-tsz was terra incognita to China proper. There is another tradition, unsupported by standard history, to the effect that the Martial King enfeoffed a faithful minister of the emperor and dynasty he had just supplanted as a vassal in Corea. Here, again, if the emperor’s own grandfather, or grand-uncles and trusted friends, could find their way to Wu, and, later, to Japan, not to mention Shan Tung and the Peking plain, it is reasonable to permit a respected adherent of the dethroned monarch to find his way to Corea, the more in that the centre of administrative gravity of Corea was then Liao Tung and South Manchuria–at the utmost the north part of modern Corea–rather than the Corean peninsula.
In the year 649 the First Protector began to boast of having done as much as any of the’ three dynasties, Hia, Shang, and Chou, during the 1500 years before him; he then defines the area of his glory, which is circumscribed by (at the very utmost) the west part of Shan Si, the south part of Ho Nan, the north part of the Peking plain, and the Gulf of “Pechelee.” The Second Protector, when he safely reached his ancestral throne after nineteen years of wanderings as Pretender, said to his faithful Tartar henchman and father-in-law: “I have made the tour of the whole world (or whole empire) with you.” As a matter of fact, he had been with the Tartars, certainly in central, and possibly also in northern Shan Si; in Ts’i, which means the northern part of Shan Tung and southern part of Chih Li; thence across the four small orthodox states of Sung, Wei, Ts’ao, and CHENG (which simply means up the Yellow River valley into Ho Nan), to Ts’u; and thence Ts’in fetched him to put him on the Tsin throne. The Emperor was already an obscure figure-head beneath all political notice, and no other parts of what we now call China were known to the Protector, even by name. As we shall see in a later Chapter, Confucius covered the same ground, except that he never went to Tsin or to Tartarland. The first bare mention of Yiieh is in 670 B.C., when the new King of Ts’u, who had assassinated his elder brother, and who therefore wished to make amends for this crime and for his father’s rude conquests, and to consolidate his position by putting himself on good behaviour to federal China, made dutiful advances to Lu and to the Emperor (these two minor powers then best representing the old ritual civilization). The Emperor replied: “Go on conquering the barbarians and Yiieh, but let the Hia (i.e. orthodox Chinese) states alone.” In 601 Ts’u and Wu came to a friendly understanding about their mutual frontiers, and Yiieh was also admitted to the conclave or entente; but this was a local act, and had nothing whatever to do with China proper, which first hears of Yiieh as an independent or semi-independent power in 536, when the King of Ts’u, with a string of conquered orthodox Chinese princes in train as his allies, and also a Yiieh contingent, makes war on Wu. In later days there is evidence showing that there was not much general knowledge of China as a whole, and that interstate intercourse was chiefly confined to next-door neighbours. For instance, when Tsin boldly marched an army upon Ts’i in 589 B.C., it was considered a remarkable thing that Tsin chariots should actually gaze upon the sea. In 560, when the Ts’i minister and philosopher, Yen-tsz, was in Ts’u as envoy, and the Ts’u courtiers were playing tricks upon him (as previously narrated in Chapter IX.) he said: “I have heard it stated that when once you get south of the Hwai River the oranges are good. In the same way, we northerners produce but sorry rogues; the genuine article reaches its perfection in Ts’u.” Thus, even at this date, the Yang-tsz was regarded much as the Romans of the Empire regarded the Danube–as a sort of vague barrier between civis and barbarus. In no sense was the Ts’u capital–at no time were the bulk of the Ts’u dominions–south of that Great River; nor, in fact, were the capitals of Wu and Yiieh south of it either, for one of the three mouths (the northernmost was as now), corresponded to the Soochow Creek and the Wusung River, as they pass through the Shanghai settlement of to-day; whilst the other ancient mouth entered the sea at modern Hangchow. We have given various other evidence above to show that, even earlier than this, the Yang-tsz was an unexplored region, known, and that only imperfectly and locally, to the Ts’u government alone. In the year 656 B.C. the First Protector called Ts’u to book because, in 1003 B.C., the Emperor had made a tour to the Great River and had never returned (see Chapter XX-XV.). Again, when the imperial power collapsed in 771 B.C., the first Earl of CHENG (a relative of the Emperor) consulted the imperial astrologer as to where he had better establish his new fief: his own idea was to settle southwards on the borders of the Yang-tsz; but he was dissuaded from this step on the ground that the Ts’u power would grow accordingly as the Chou power declined, and thus CHENG would all the easier fall a prey to Ts’u in the future if she migrated now so far south. The astrologer makes another observation which supports the view that Ts’u and orthodox China were originally of the same prehistoric stock. He says: “When the remote ancestor of Ts’u did good service to the Emperor (2400 B.C.), his renown was great, yet his descendants never became so flourishing as those of the Chou family.” In 597 B.C., when the Earl of CHENG really was at the mercy of Ts’u, he said: “If you choose to send me south of the Yang-tsz towards the South Sea, I shall not have the right to object"; meaning, “no exile, however remote, is too severe for my deserts.” In 549, when the Tsin generals were marching against Ts’u, they were particularly anxious to find good CHENG guides who knew the routes well. Finally, in 541, a Tsin statesman made the following observations to a prince (afterwards king) of Ts’u, who was then on a mission to Tsin, by way of illustrating for his visitor the conquests and distant expeditions of ancient times:–
“The Emperor Shun (who married Yao’s two daughters, and employed the founder of the Hia dynasty as his minister) was obliged to imprison the prince of the Three Miao (in Hu Nan; the savages of Hu Nan and Kwei Chou provinces are still called Miao); the Hia dynasty had to deal with quarrels in (modern) Shan Tung and Shen Si; the Shang dynasty had to do the same in (modern) Kiang Su; the early Chou monarchs the same in (modern) North Kiang Su and South Shan Tung: but, now that there are no able emperors, all the vassals are at loggerheads. Wu and P’uh (the supposed Shan or Siamese region above referred to) are giving you trouble; but it is no one’s concern but yours.”
From all this it is quite plain, though the Chinese historians and philosophers never seem to have discerned it clearly themselves, that the cultivated or orthodox Chinese, that is, the group of closely related monosyllabic and tonic tribes which alone possessed the art of writing, and thus inevitably took the lead and gradually civilized the rest, covered but a very small area of ground even at the time of Confucius’ death in 479 B.C., and were completely ignorant of everything but the bare names of all the regions surrounding this orthodox nucleus, which nucleus was therefore rightly called the “Central State,” as China is, by extension, now still called.
1. Si-ngan Fu (and Hien-yang opposite, on the north bank of the River Wei), marked with circles in a lozenge, were the capitals of China, off and on, from 220 B.C. for over a thousand years. The ancient capital of the Chou dynasty, forsaken in 771 B.C., is marked with a cross in a circle and is west of Si-ngan. In 771 B.C. the Emperor fled east to his “east capital” (founded 300 years before that date), which then became the sole metropolis, called Loh (from the river on which it stands); it is also marked with a cross inside a circle and is practically the modern Ho-nan Fu; it has, off and on, been the capital of all China, alternately with Si-ngan Fu, in later times.
2. The ford where the first Chou Emperor (122 B.C.) made an appointment with all his vassals is marked by two dotted lines across the Yellow River.
3. The two dots in a half-circle mark the spot whither Tsin “summoned” the Emperor to the durbar of 632 B.C. After this, Tsin obtained from the Emperor cession of the strip between the Yellow River and the Ts’in River (nothing to do with Ts’in state).
4. There is a second River Loh separating Ts’in state from Tsin state. The territory between this River Loh and the Yellow River was alternately held by Tsin and Ts’in.
5. The territory between the more southerly River Loh and the Yellow River and River I was the shorn imperial appanage after Ts’in had in 771 B.C. obtained the west half; after Tsin in 632 had obtained the remaining north half; and after Ts’u had nibbled away the petty orthodox vassals south of latitude 34”.]