Ancient China Simplified
by Edward Harper Parker
Public Domain Books
Chapter XLVII - Rulers and People
A feature of the times was the remarkably personal character of the wars, and the apparent utter indifference to humble popular interests; Quidquid delirant reges, plectuntur Achivi; stress is laid upon this point by the democratic philosopher Lao-tsz, who, however, in his book (be it genuine or not), is wise enough never to name a person or place; probably that prudence saved it from the flames in 213 B.C.
In 684 B.C. the ruler of Ts’ai (imperial clan) treated very rudely his own wife’s sister, married to a petty prince (imperial clan) close by; the sister was simply passing through as a traveller; the result was that this petty prince, her husband, induced Ts’u to make war upon Ts’ai, whose reigning prince was captured, and died a prisoner. In 657 the ruler of Ts’ai had a sister married in Ts’i. The First Protector, offended at some act of playful disobedience, sent her back, but without actually divorcing her. Her brother was so angry that he found her another husband. On this Ts’i declared war, and captured the brother, who, however, at the intercession of the other vassal princes, was restored to his kingdom. In 509 and 506 B.C. Ts’ai induces Tsin to make war on Ts’u, and also assists Wu in her hostilities against Ts’u, because a Ts’u minister had detained the ruler of Ts’ai for refusing to part with a handsome fur coat. It is like the stealing of the Golden Fleece by Jason, and similar Greek squabbles. In 675 B.C. the Emperor, for the third time, had to fly from his capital, the immediate cause of the trouble being an attempt on his part to seize a vassal’s rice-field for including in his own park–a Chinese version of the Naboth’s vineyard dispute. Nothing could better prove the pettiness of the ancient state-horizon; no busily active great power could find time for such trifles.
When the Second Protector came to the throne, the orthodox states of Wei, Ts’ao, and Cheng (all of the imperial clan), which had treated him scurvily as a wanderer, had all three of them to pay dearly for their meanness. In 632, when the Protector had secured the Tsin throne, the ruler of Ts’ao was promptly captured, and part of his territory was given to Sung (where the wanderer had been well treated). The same year Tsin wished to assist Sung, and accordingly asked right of way through the state of Wei, which was curtly refused; the Tsin army therefore crossed the Yellow River to the south of Wei: as a punishment for this refusal, and also for the previous rude treatment, Wei also had to give part of her territory to the favoured Sung. In 630 Tsin induced Ts’in to join in an attack upon Cheng, the object being, of course, to revenge similar personal rudenesses; however, Cheng diplomacy was successful in inducing Ts’in to abandon Tsin in the nick of time: this was one of the very few cases in which Ts’in interfered, or was about to interfere, in “orthodox” affairs. In 592 Tsin sent a hunchback envoy to Ts’i; it so happened that at the same time Lu sent one who was lame, and Wei a third who was blind of one eye. The Ts’i ruler thereupon appointed an officer mutilated in some other way to do the duties of host to this sorry trio. The Tsin envoy swore: “If I do not revenge this upon Ts’i, may the God of the Yellow River take note of it!” Reaching his own country, he tried to induce the ruler to make war on Ts’i; but the prince said: “Your personal pique should hardly suffice for ground to trouble the whole country”: and he refused.
The principle of the divinity that doth hedge a king was early established, but there are certainly more numerous evidences of royal absolutism in Ts’u than in orthodox China, where responsibility of rulers before Heaven and the People (symbolical of Heaven also) was an accepted axiom. For instance, in 522 B.C., an officer, knowing that the King of Ts’u was sending for him in order to kill him, said to his brother: “As the king orders it, one of us two must go, but you can avenge me later on.” When the next Ts’u king was a fugitive, and it was a question in a subject’s mind of killing him because his father had taken a brother’s life, it was objected: “No! if the king slays one of his officers, who can avenge it? His commands emanate from Heaven. It is unpardonable to cut off the ancestral sacrifice of a whole house in this way.”
In still more ancient times, when the last Emperor of the Shang dynasty was being warned of the rising popular feeling in favour of the rising Chou power, he remarked: “Have I not Heaven’s mandate? What can they do to me?” When the Martial King achieved his conquest, he smeared the god of the soil with the sacrificial victims’ blood, and announced the crimes of the dead tyrant to Heaven. In the war of 589 between Tsin and Ts’i, the ruler of Ts’i, who had changed places with his charioteer in order to escape detection, was hotly pursued; but his chariot caught in a tree. Seeing this, the Tsin captain prostrated himself before the chariot, and said: “My princely master’s orders are to assist the states of Lu and Wei” (i.e. not to attack your person). Meanwhile the disguised charioteer ordered the disguised king to fetch a drink of water, and the king thus escaped even the humiliation of a favour from his generous victor. When in 548 a worthless Ts’i ruler was assassinated, the philosopher Yen-tsz said: “When the ruler dies or is exiled for the gods of the land and its harvests, one dies or is exiled with him; but if he dies or is exiled for private reasons, then only his personal friends die with him.” He therefore contented himself with wailing, and with laying his head on the royal body. The same Tsin captain who was so tender to the Ts’i duke in 589 had an opportunity fourteen years later of taking prisoner the ruler of CHENG in battle; but he said: “Evil cometh to him who toucheth a crowned head! I have already committed sacrilege once against the ruler of Ts’i; preserve me from committing this crime a second time!” And he turned promptly back. During the same fight, the King of Ts’u’s body-guard was attacked by the Tsin generalissimo, who, when he discerned the king in the centre of the guards, got out of his chariot, doffed his helmet, and fled in horror, “such was his respect for the person of royalty.” It was a ritual rule in China for the distinguished men not to remove the official head-covering in death; for instance, in 481, when one of Confucius’ pupils was killed in war, his last patriotic act was to tie his hat-strings tighter. Though rulers were supposed to owe duties to the gods in general, yet the power of the gods was limited. Thus when Tsz-ch’an of CHENG was sent as envoy to Tsin in 541, the sick Tsin ruler asked him: “How can the two gods who, they say, are responsible for my malady, be conjured?” Tsz-ch’an replied: “These particular gods cannot injure you; we sacrifice to them in connection with natural phenomena, such as drought, flood, or other disaster; just as in matters of snow, hail, rain, or wind we sacrifice to the gods of the sun, moon, planets, and constellations. Your illness is the result of drink, over-feeding, women, passionate anger, excessive pleasure." Shuh Hiang approved this common-sense view of the situation.