Ancient China Simplified
by Edward Harper Parker
Public Domain Books
Chapter VII - The Coast States
Before we enter into a categorical description of the hegemony or Protector system, under which the most powerful state for the time being held durbars “in camp,” and in theory maintained the shadowy rights of the Emperor, we must first introduce the two coast states of the Yang-tsz delta, just mentioned as having asserted their independence of Ts’u, each state being in possession of one of the Great River branches, In ancient times the Yang-tsz was simply called the Kiang ("river”), just as the Yellow River was simply styled the Ho (also “river”). In those days the Great River had three mouths-the northernmost very much as at present, except that the flat accretions did not then extend so far out to sea, and in any case were for all practical purposes unknown to orthodox China, and entirely in the hands of “Eastern barbarians"; the southerly course, which branched off near the modern treaty-port of Wuhu in An Hwei province, emerging into the sea at, or very near, Hangchow; and the middle course, which was practically the combined beds of the Soochow Creek and the Wusung River of Shanghai. Before the Chou dynasty came to power in 1122 B.C., the grandfather of the future founder, as a youth, displayed such extraordinary talents, that, by family arrangement, his two eldest brothers voluntarily resigned their rights, and exiled themselves in the Jungle territory, subsequently working their way east to the coast, and adopting entirely, or in part, the rude ways of the barbarous tribes they hoped to govern. We can understand this better if we picture how the Phoenician and Greek merchants in turn acted when successively colonizing Marseilles, Cadiz, and even parts of Britain. Excepting doubtful genealogies and lists of rulers, nothing whatever is heard of this colony until 585 B.C.–say, 800 years subsequent to the original settlement. A malcontent of Ts’u had, as was the practice among the rival states of those, times, offered his services to the hated Tsin, then engaged in desperate warfare with Ts’u: he proposed to his new master that he should be sent on a mission to the King of Wu (for that was, and still is, for literary purposes, the name of the kingdom comprising Shanghai, Soochow, and Nanking) in order to induce him to join in attacking Ts’u. “He taught them the use of arrows and chariots,” from which we may assume that spears and boats were, up to that date, the usual warlike apparatus of the coast power. Its capital was at a spot about half-way between Soochow and Nanking, on the new (British) railway line; and it is described by Chinese visitors during the sixth century B.C. as being “a mean place, with low-built houses, narrow streets, a vulgar palace, and crowds of boats and wheelbarrows.” The native word for the country was something like Keugu, which the Chinese (as they still do with foreign words, as, for instance, Ying for “England”) promptly turned into a convenient monosyllable Ngu, or Wu. The semi-barbarous King was delighted at the opening thus given him to associate with orthodox Chinese princes on an equal footing, and to throw off his former tyrannical suzerain. He annexed a number of neighbouring barbarian states hitherto, like himself, belonging to Ts’u; paid visits to the Emperor’s court, to the Ts’u court, and to the petty but highly cultivated court of Lu (in South Shan Tung), in order to “study the rites"; and threw himself with zest into the whirl of interstate political intrigue. Confucius in his history hardly alludes to him as a civilized being until the year 561, when the King died; and as his services to China (i.e. to orthodox Tsin against unorthodox Ts’u) could not be ignored, the philosopher- historian condescends to say “the Viscount of Wu died this year." It must be explained that the Lu capital had been celebrated for its learning ever since the founder of the Chou dynasty sent the Duke of Chou, his own brother, there as a satrap (1122 B.C.). Confucius, of course, wrote retrospectively, for he himself was only born in 551 and did not compose his “Springs and Autumns" history for at least half a century after that date. The old Lu capital of K’uh-fu on she River Sz (both still so called) is the official headquarters of the Dukes Confucius, the seventy-sixth in descent from the Sage having at this moment direct semi-official relations with Great Britain’s representative at Wei-hai-wei. It must also be explained that the vassal princes were all dukes, marquises, earls, viscounts, or barons, according to the size of their states, the distinction of their clan or gens, and the length of their pedigrees; but the Emperor somewhat contemptuously accorded only the courtesy title of “viscount” to barbarian “kings,” such as those of Ts’u and Wu, very much as we vaguely speak of “His Highness the Khedive,” or (until last year) “His Highness the Amir,” so as to mark unequality with genuine crowned or sovereign heads.
The history of the wars between Wu and Ts’u is extremely interesting, the more so in that there are some grounds for believing that at least some part of the Japanese civilization was subsequently introduced from the east coast of China, when the ruling caste of Wu, in its declining days, had to “take flight eastwards in boats to the islands to the east of the coast.” But we shall come to that episode later on. In the year 506 the capital of Ts’u was occupied by a victorious Wu army, under circumstances full of dramatic detail. But now, in the flush of success, it was Wu’s turn to suffer from the ambition of a vassal. South of Wu, with a capital at the modern Shao-hing, near Ningpo, reigned the barbarian King of Yiieh (this is a corrupted monosyllable supposed to represent a dissyllabic native word something like Uviet); and this king had once been a ’vassal of Ts’u, but had, since Wu’s conquests, transferred, either willingly or under local compulsion, his allegiance to Wu. Advances were made to him by Ts’u, and he was ultimately induced to declare war as an ally of Ts’u. There is nothing more interesting in our European history than the detailed account, full of personal incident, of the fierce contests between Wu and Yiieh. The extinction of Wu took place in 483, after that state had played a very commanding part in federal affairs, as we shall have occasion to specify in the proper places. Yiieh, in turn, peopled by a race supposed to have ethnological connection with the Annamese of Vietnam or “Southern Yiieh,” became a great power in China, and in 468 even transferred its capital to a spot on or near the coast, very near the German colony of Kiao Chou in Shan Tung. But its predominance was only successfully asserted on the coasts; to use the historians’ words: “Yiieh could never effectively administer the territory comprised in the Yang-tsz Kiang and Hwai River regions.”
It was precisely during this barbarian struggle, when federated China, having escaped the Tartars, seemed to be running the risk of falling into the clutches of southern pirates, that Confucius flourished, and it is in reference to the historical events sketched above-(1) the providential escape of China from Tartardom, (2) the collapse of the imperial Chou house, (3) the hegemony or Protector system, (4) the triumph of might over rite (right and rite being one with Confucius), and (5) the desirability of a prompt return to the good old feudal ways–that he abandoned his own corrupt and ungrateful principality, began his peripatetic teaching in the other orthodox states, composed a warning history full of lessons for future guidance, and established what we somewhat inaccurately call a “religion” for the political guidance of mankind.