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THE CHOU DYNASTY (c. 1028-257 B.C.)

1 Cultural origin of the Chou and end of the Shang dynasty

The Shang culture still lacked certain things that were to become typical of “Chinese” civilization. The family system was not yet the strong patriarchal system of the later Chinese. The religion, too, in spite of certain other influences, was still a religion of agrarian fertility. And although Shang society was strongly stratified and showed some tendencies to develop a feudal system, feudalism was still very primitive. Although the Shang script was the precursor of later Chinese script, it seemed to have contained many words which later disappeared, and we are not sure whether Shang language was the same as the language of Chou time. With the Chou period, however, we enter a period in which everything which was later regarded as typically “Chinese” began to emerge.

During the time of the Shang dynasty the Chou formed a small realm in the west, at first in central Shensi, an area which even in much later times was the home of many “non-Chinese” tribes. Before the beginning of the eleventh century B.C. they must have pushed into eastern Shensi, due to pressures of other tribes which may have belonged to the Turkish ethnic group. However, it is also possible that their movement was connected with pressures from Indo-European groups. An analysis of their tribal composition at the time of the conquest seems to indicate that the ruling house of the Chou was related to the Turkish group, and that the population consisted mainly of Turks and Tibetans. Their culture was closely related to that of Yang-shao, the previously described painted-pottery culture, with, of course, the progress brought by time. They had bronze weapons and, especially, the war-chariot. Their eastward migration, however, brought them within the zone of the Shang culture, by which they were strongly influenced, so that the Chou culture lost more and more of its original character and increasingly resembled the Shang culture. The Chou were also brought into the political sphere of the Shang, as shown by the fact that marriages took place between the ruling houses of Shang and Chou, until the Chou state became nominally dependent on the Shang state in the form of a dependency with special prerogatives. Meanwhile the power of the Chou state steadily grew, while that of the Shang state diminished more and more through the disloyalty of its feudatories and through wars in the East. Finally, about 1028 B.C., the Chou ruler, named Wu Wang ("the martial king"), crossed his eastern frontier and pushed into central Honan. His army was formed by an alliance between various tribes, in the same way as happened again and again in the building up of the armies of the rulers of the steppes. Wu Wang forced a passage across the Yellow River and annihilated the Shang army. He pursued its vestiges as far as the capital, captured the last emperor of the Shang, and killed him. Thus was the Chou dynasty founded, and with it we begin the actual history of China. The Chou brought to the Shang culture strong elements of Turkish and also Tibetan culture, which were needed for the release of such forces as could create a new empire and maintain it through thousands of years as a cultural and, generally, also a political unit.

2 Feudalism in the new empire

A natural result of the situation thus produced was the turning of the country into a feudal state. The conquerors were an alien minority, so that they had to march out and spread over the whole country. Moreover, the allied tribal chieftains expected to be rewarded. The territory to be governed was enormous, but the communications in northern China at that time were similar to those still existing not long ago in southern China narrow footpaths from one settlement to another. It is very difficult to build roads in the loess of northern China; and the war-chariots that required roads had only just been introduced. Under such conditions, the simplest way of administering the empire was to establish garrisons of the invading tribes in the various parts of the country under the command of their chieftains. Thus separate regions of the country were distributed as fiefs. If a former subject of the Shang surrendered betimes with the territory under his rule, or if there was one who could not be overcome by force, the Chou recognized him as a feudal lord.

We find in the early Chou time the typical signs of true feudalism: fiefs were given in a ceremony in which symbolically a piece of earth was handed over to the new fiefholder, and his instalment, his rights and obligations were inscribed in a “charter”. Most of the fiefholders were members of the Chou ruling family or members of the clan to which this family belonged; other fiefs were given to heads of the allied tribes. The fiefholder (feudal lord) regarded the land of his fief, as far as he and his clan actually used it, as “clan” land; parts of this land he gave to members of his own branch-clan for their use without transferring rights of property, thus creating new sub-fiefs and sub-lords. In much later times the concept of landed property of a family developed, and the whole concept of “clan” disappeared. By 500 B.C., most feudal lords had retained only a dim memory that they originally belonged to the Chi clan of the Chou or to one of the few other original clans, and their so-called sub-lords felt themselves as members of independent noble families. Slowly, then, the family names of later China began to develop, but it took many centuries until, at the time of the Han Dynasty, all citizens (slaves excluded) had accepted family names. Then, reversely, families grew again into new clans.

Thus we have this picture of the early Chou state: the imperial central power established in Shensi, near the present Sian; over a thousand feudal states, great and small, often consisting only of a small garrison, or sometimes a more considerable one, with the former chieftain as feudal lord over it. Around these garrisons the old population lived on, in the north the Shang population, farther east and south various other peoples and cultures. The conquerors’ garrisons were like islands in a sea. Most of them formed new towns, walled, with a rectangular plan and central crossroads, similar to the European towns subsequently formed out of Roman encampments. This town plan has been preserved to the present day.

This upper class in the garrisons formed the nobility; it was sharply divided from the indigenous population around the towns The conquerors called the population “the black-haired people”, and themselves “the hundred families”. The rest of the town populations consisted often of urban Shang people: Shang noble families together with their bondsmen and serfs had been given to Chou fiefholders. Such forced resettlements of whole populations have remained typical even for much later periods. By this method new cities were provided with urban, refined people and, most important, with skilled craftsmen and businessmen who assisted in building the cities and in keeping them alive. Some scholars believe that many resettled Shang urbanites either were or became businessmen; incidentally, the same word “Shang” means “merchant”, up to the present time. The people of the Shang capital lived on and even attempted a revolt in collaboration with some Chou people. The Chou rulers suppressed this revolt, and then transferred a large part of this population to Loyang. They were settled there in a separate community, and vestiges of the Shang population were still to be found there in the fifth century A.D.: they were entirely impoverished potters, still making vessels in the old style.

3 Fusion of Chou and Shang

The conquerors brought with them, for their own purposes to begin with, their rigid patriarchate in the family system and their cult of Heaven (t’ien), in which the worship of sun and stars took the principal place; a religion most closely related to that of the Turkish peoples and derived from them. Some of the Shang popular deities, however, were admitted into the official Heaven-worship. Popular deities became “feudal lords” under the Heaven-god. The Shang conceptions of the soul were also admitted into the Chou religion: the human body housed two souls, the personality-soul and the life-soul. Death meant the separation of the souls from the body, the life-soul also slowly dying. The personality-soul, however, could move about freely and lived as long as there were people who remembered it and kept it from hunger by means of sacrifices. The Chou systematized this idea and made it into the ancestor-worship that has endured down to the present time.

The Chou officially abolished human sacrifices, especially since, as former pastoralists, they knew of better means of employing prisoners of war than did the more agrarian Shang. The Chou used Shang and other slaves as domestic servants for their numerous nobility, and Shang serfs as farm labourers on their estates. They seem to have regarded the land under their control as “state land” and all farmers as “serfs”. A slave, here, must be defined as an individual, a piece of property, who was excluded from membership in human society but, in later legal texts, was included under domestic animals and immobile property, while serfs as a class depended upon another class and had certain rights, at least the right to work on the land. They could change their masters if the land changed its master, but they could not legally be sold individually. Thus, the following, still rather hypothetical, picture of the land system of the early Chou time emerges: around the walled towns of the feudal lords and sub-lords, always in the plains, was “state land” which produced millet and more and more wheat. Cultivation was still largely “shifting”, so that the serfs in groups cultivated more or less standardized plots for a year or more and then shifted to other plots. During the growing season they lived in huts on the fields; during the winter in the towns in adobe houses. In this manner the yearly life cycle was divided into two different periods. The produce of the serfs supplied the lords, their dependants and the farmers themselves. Whenever the lord found it necessary, the serfs had to perform also other services for the lord. Farther away from the towns were the villages of the “natives”, nominally also subjects of the lord. In most parts of eastern China, these, too, were agriculturists. They acknowledged their dependence by sending “gifts” to the lord in the town. Later these gifts became institutionalized and turned into a form of tax. The lord’s serfs, on the other hand, tended to settle near the fields in villages of their own because, with growing urban population, the distances from the town to many of the fields became too great. It was also at this time of new settlements that a more intensive cultivation with a fallow system began. At latest from the sixth century B.C. on, the distinctions between both land systems became unclear; and the pure serf-cultivation, called by the old texts the “well-field system” because eight cultivating families used one common well, disappeared in practice.

The actual structure of early Chou administration is difficult to ascertain. The “Duke of Chou”, brother of the first ruler, Wu Wang, later regent during the minority of Wu Wang’s son, and certainly one of the most influential persons of this time, was the alleged creator of the book Chou-li which contains a detailed table of the bureaucracy of the country. However, we know now from inscriptions that the bureaucracy at the beginning of the Chou period was not much more developed than in late Shang time. The Chou-li gave an ideal picture of a bureaucratic state, probably abstracted from actual conditions in feudal states several centuries later.

The Chou capital, at Sian, was a twin city. In one part lived the master-race of the Chou with the imperial court, in the other the subjugated population. At the same time, as previously mentioned, the Chou built a second capital, Loyang, in the present province of Honan. Loyang was just in the middle of the new state, and for the purposes of Heaven-worship it was regarded as the centre of the universe, where it was essential that the emperor should reside. Loyang was another twin city: in one part were the rulers’ administrative buildings, in the other the transferred population of the Shang capital, probably artisans for the most part. The valuable artisans seem all to have been taken over from the Shang, for the bronze vessels of the early Chou age are virtually identical with those of the Shang age. The shapes of the houses also remained unaltered, and probably also the clothing, though the Chou brought with them the novelties of felt and woollen fabrics, old possessions of their earlier period. The only fundamental material change was in the form of the graves: in the Shang age house-like tombs were built underground; now great tumuli were constructed in the fashion preferred by all steppe peoples.

One professional class was severely hit by the changed circumstances the Shang priesthood. The Chou had no priests. As with all the races of the steppes, the head of the family himself performed the religious rites. Beyond this there were only shamans for certain purposes of magic. And very soon Heaven-worship was combined with the family system, the ruler being declared to be the Son of Heaven; the mutual relations within the family were thus extended to the religious relations with the deity. If, however, the god of Heaven is the father of the ruler, the ruler as his son himself offers sacrifice, and so the priest becomes superfluous. Thus the priests became “unemployed”. Some of them changed their profession. They were the only people who could read and write, and as an administrative system was necessary they obtained employment as scribes. Others withdrew to their villages and became village priests. They organized the religious festivals in the village, carried out the ceremonies connected with family events, and even conducted the exorcism of evil spirits with shamanistic dances; they took charge, in short, of everything connected with customary observances and morality. The Chou lords were great respecters of propriety. The Shang culture had, indeed, been a high one with an ancient and highly developed moral system, and the Chou as rough conquerors must have been impressed by the ancient forms and tried to imitate them. In addition, they had in their religion of Heaven a conception of the existence of mutual relations between Heaven and Earth: all that went on in the skies had an influence on earth, and vice versa. Thus, if any ceremony was “wrongly” performed, it had an evil effect on Heaven there would be no rain, or the cold weather would arrive too soon, or some such misfortune would come. It was therefore of great importance that everything should be done “correctly”. Hence the Chou rulers were glad to call in the old priests as performers of ceremonies and teachers of morality similar to the ancient Indian rulers who needed the Brahmáns for the correct performance of all rites. There thus came into existence in the early Chou empire a new social group, later called “scholars”, men who were not regarded as belonging to the lower class represented by the subjugated population but were not included in the nobility; men who were not productively employed but belonged to a sort of independent profession. They became of very great importance in later centuries.

In the first centuries of the Chou dynasty the ruling house steadily lost power. Some of the emperors proved weak, or were killed at war; above all, the empire was too big and its administration too slow-moving. The feudal lords and nobles were occupied with their own problems in securing the submission of the surrounding villages to their garrisons and in governing them; they soon paid little attention to the distant central authority. In addition to this, the situation at the centre of the empire was more difficult than that of its feudal states farther east. The settlements around the garrisons in the east were inhabited by agrarian tribes, but the subjugated population around the centre at Sian was made up of nomadic tribes of Turks and Mongols together with semi-nomadic Tibetans. Sian lies in the valley of the river Wei; the riverside country certainly belonged, though perhaps only insecurely, to the Shang empire and was specially well adapted to agriculture; but its periphery mountains in the south, steppes in the north was inhabited (until a late period, to some extent to the present day) by nomads, who had also been subjugated by the Chou. The Chou themselves were by no means strong, as they had been only a small tribe and their strength had depended on auxiliary tribes, which had now spread over the country as the new nobility and lived far from the Chou. The Chou emperors had thus to hold in check the subjugated but warlike tribes of Turks and Mongols who lived quite close to their capital. In the first centuries of the dynasty they were more or less successful, for the feudal lords still sent auxiliary forces. In time, however, these became fewer and fewer, because the feudal lords pursued their own policy; and the Chou were compelled to fight their own battles against tribes that continually rose against them, raiding and pillaging their towns. Campaigns abroad also fell mainly on the shoulders of the Chou, as their capital lay near the frontier.

It must not be simply assumed, as is often done by the Chinese and some of the European historians, that the Turkish and Mongolian tribes were so savage or so pugnacious that they continually waged war just for the love of it. The problem is much deeper, and to fail to recognize this is to fail to understand Chinese history down to the Middle Ages. The conquering Chou established their garrisons everywhere, and these garrisons were surrounded by the quarters of artisans and by the villages of peasants, a process that ate into the pasturage of the Turkish and Mongolian nomads. These nomads, as already mentioned, pursued agriculture themselves on a small scale, but it occurred to them that they could get farm produce much more easily by barter or by raiding. Accordingly they gradually gave up cultivation and became pure nomads, procuring the needed farm produce from their neighbours. This abandonment of agriculture brought them into a precarious situation: if for any reason the Chinese stopped supplying or demanded excessive barter payment, the nomads had to go hungry. They were then virtually driven to get what they needed by raiding. Thus there developed a mutual reaction that lasted for centuries. Some of the nomadic tribes living between garrisons withdrew, to escape from the growing pressure, mainly into the province of Shansi, where the influence of the Chou was weak and they were not numerous; some of the nomad chiefs lost their lives in battle, and some learned from the Chou lords and turned themselves into petty rulers. A number of “marginal” states began to develop; some of them even built their own cities. This process of transformation of agro-nomadic tribes into “warrior-nomadic” tribes continued over many centuries and came to an end in the third or second century B.C.

The result of the three centuries that had passed was a symbiosis between the urban aristocrats and the country-people. The rulers of the towns took over from the general population almost the whole vocabulary of the language which from now on we may call “Chinese”. They naturally took over elements of the material civilization. The subjugated population had, meanwhile, to adjust itself to its lords. In the organism that thus developed, with its unified economic system, the conquerors became an aristocratic ruling class, and the subjugated population became a lower class, with varied elements but mainly a peasantry. From now on we may call this society “Chinese”; it has endured to the middle of the twentieth century. Most later essential societal changes are the result of internal development and not of aggression from without.

4 Limitation of the imperial power

In 771 B.C. an alliance of northern feudal states had attacked the ruler in his western capital; in a battle close to the city they had overcome and killed him. This campaign appears to have set in motion considerable groups from various tribes, so that almost the whole province of Shensi was lost. With the aid of some feudal lords who had remained loyal, a Chou prince was rescued and conducted eastward to the second capital, Loyang, which until then had never been the ruler’s actual place of residence. In this rescue a lesser feudal prince, ruler of the feudal state of Ch’in, specially distinguished himself. Soon afterwards this prince, whose domain had lain close to that of the ruler, reconquered a great part of the lost territory, and thereafter regarded it as his own fief. The Ch’in family resided in the same capital in which the Chou had lived in the past, and five hundred years later we shall meet with them again as the dynasty that succeeded the Chou.

The new ruler, resident now in Loyang, was foredoomed to impotence. He was now in the centre of the country, and less exposed to large-scale enemy attacks; but his actual rule extended little beyond the town itself and its immediate environment. Moreover, attacks did not entirely cease; several times parts of the indigenous population living between the Chou towns rose against the towns, even in the centre of the country.

Now that the emperor had no territory that could be the basis of a strong rule and, moreover, because he owed his position to the feudal lords and was thus under an obligation to them, he ruled no longer as the chief of the feudal lords but as a sort of sanctified overlord; and this was the position of all his successors. A situation was formed at first that may be compared with that of Japan down to the middle of the nineteenth century. The ruler was a symbol rather than an exerciser of power. There had to be a supreme ruler because, in the worship of Heaven which was recognized by all the feudal lords, the supreme sacrifices could only be offered by the Son of Heaven in person. There could not be a number of sons of heaven because there were not a number of heavens. The imperial sacrifices secured that all should be in order in the country, and that the necessary equilibrium between Heaven and Earth should be maintained. For in the religion of Heaven there was a close parallelism between Heaven and Earth, and every omission of a sacrifice, or failure to offer it in due form, brought down a reaction from Heaven. For these religious reasons a central ruler was a necessity for the feudal lords. They needed him also for practical reasons. In the course of centuries the personal relationship between the various feudal lords had ceased. Their original kinship and united struggles had long been forgotten. When the various feudal lords proceeded to subjugate the territories at a distance from their towns, in order to turn their city states into genuine territorial states, they came into conflict with each other. In the course of these struggles for power many of the small fiefs were simply destroyed. It may fairly be said that not until the eighth and seventh centuries B.C. did the old garrison towns became real states. In these circumstances the struggles between the feudal states called urgently for an arbiter, to settle simple cases, and in more difficult cases either to try to induce other feudal lords to intervene or to give sanction to the new situation. These were the only governing functions of the ruler from the time of the transfer to the second capital.

5 Changes in the relative strength of the feudal states

In these disturbed times China also made changes in her outer frontiers. When we speak of frontiers in this connection, we must take little account of the European conception of a frontier. No frontier in that sense existed in China until her conflict with the European powers. In the dogma of the Chinese religion of Heaven, all the countries of the world were subject to the Chinese emperor, the Son of Heaven. Thus there could be no such thing as other independent states. In practice the dependence of various regions on the ruler naturally varied: near the centre, that is to say near the ruler’s place of residence, it was most pronounced; then it gradually diminished in the direction of the periphery. The feudal lords of the inner territories were already rather less subordinated than at the centre, and those at a greater distance scarcely at all; at a still greater distance were territories whose chieftains regarded themselves as independent, subject only in certain respects to Chinese overlordship. In such a system it is difficult to speak of frontiers. In practice there was, of course, a sort of frontier, where the influence of the outer feudal lords ceased to exist. The development of the original feudal towns into feudal states with actual dominion over their territories proceeded, of course, not only in the interior of China but also on its borders, where the feudal territories had the advantage of more unrestricted opportunities of expansion; thus they became more and more powerful. In the south (that is to say, in the south of the Chou empire, in the present central China) the garrisons that founded feudal states were relatively small and widely separated; consequently their cultural system was largely absorbed into that of the aboriginal population, so that they developed into feudal states with a character of their own. Three of these attained special importance (1) Ch’u, in the neighbourhood of the present Chungking and Hankow; (2) Wu, near the present Nanking; and (3) Yueeh, near the present Hangchow. In 704 B.C. the feudal prince of Wu proclaimed himself “Wang”. “Wang”, however was the title of the ruler of the Chou dynasty. This meant that Wu broke away from the old Chou religion of Heaven, according to which there could be only one ruler (wang) in the world.

At the beginning of the seventh century it became customary for the ruler to unite with the feudal lord who was most powerful at the time. This feudal lord became a dictator, and had the military power in his hands, like the shoguns in nineteenth-century Japan. If there was a disturbance of the peace, he settled the matter by military means. The first of these dictators was the feudal lord of the state of Ch’i, in the present province of Shantung. This feudal state had grown considerably through the conquest of the outer end of the peninsula of Shantung, which until then had been independent. Moreover, and this was of the utmost importance, the state of Ch’i was a trade centre. Much of the bronze, and later all the iron, for use in northern China came from the south by road and in ships that went up the rivers to Ch’i, where it was distributed among the various regions of the north, north-east, and north-west. In addition to this, through its command of portions of the coast, Ch’i had the means of producing salt, with which it met the needs of great areas of eastern China. It was also in Ch’i that money was first used. Thus Ch’i soon became a place of great luxury, far surpassing the court of the Chou, and Ch’i also became the centre of the most developed civilization.

After the feudal lord of Ch’i, supported by the wealth and power of his feudal state, became dictator, he had to struggle not only against other feudal lords, but also many times against risings among the most various parts of the population, and especially against the nomad tribes in the southern part of the present province of Shansi. In the seventh century not only Ch’i but the other feudal states had expanded. The regions in which the nomad tribes were able to move had grown steadily smaller, and the feudal lords now set to work to bring the nomads of their country under their direct rule. The greatest conflict of this period was the attack in 660 B.C. against the feudal state of Wei, in northern Honan. The nomad tribes seem this time to have been proto-Mongols; they made a direct attack on the garrison town and actually conquered it. The remnant of the urban population, no more than 730 in number, had to flee southward. It is clear from this incident that nomads were still living in the middle of China, within the territory of the feudal states, and that they were still decidedly strong, though no longer in a position to get rid entirely of the feudal lords of the Chou.

The period of the dictators came to an end after about a century, because it was found that none of the feudal states was any longer strong enough to exercise control over all the others. These others formed alliances against which the dictator was powerless. Thus this period passed into the next, which the Chinese call the period of the Contending States.

6 Confucius

After this survey of the political history we must consider the intellectual history of this period, for between 550 and 280 B.C. the enduring fundamental influences in the Chinese social order and in the whole intellectual life of China had their original. We saw how the priests of the earlier dynasty of the Shang developed into the group of so-called “scholars”. When the Chou ruler, after the move to the second capital, had lost virtually all but his religious authority, these “scholars” gained increased influence. They were the specialists in traditional morals, in sacrifices, and in the organization of festivals. The continually increasing ritualism at the court of the Chou called for more and more of these men. The various feudal lords also attracted these scholars to their side, employed them as tutors for their children, and entrusted them with the conduct of sacrifices and festivals.

China’s best-known philosopher, Confucius (Chinese: K’ung Tz[)u], was one of these scholars. He was born in 551 B.C. in the feudal state Lu in the present province of Shantung. In Lu and its neighbouring state Sung, institutions of the Shang had remained strong; both states regarded themselves as legitimate heirs of Shang culture, and many traces of Shang culture can be seen in Confucius’s political and ethical ideas. He acquired the knowledge which a scholar had to possess, and then taught in the families of nobles, also helping in the administration of their properties. He made several attempts to obtain advancement, either in vain or with only a short term of employment ending in dismissal. Thus his career was a continuing pilgrimage from one noble to another, from one feudal lord to another, accompanied by a few young men, sons of scholars, who were partly his pupils and partly his servants. Many of these disciples seem to have been “illegitimate” sons of noblemen, i.e. sons of concubines, and Confucius’s own family seems to have been of the same origin. In the strongly patriarchal and patrilinear system of the Chou and the developing primogeniture, children of secondary wives had a lower social status. Ultimately Confucius gave up his wanderings, settled in his home town of Lu, and there taught his disciples until his death in 479 B.C.

Such was briefly the life of Confucius. His enemies claim that he was a political intriguer, inciting the feudal lords against each other in the course of his wanderings from one state to another, with the intention of somewhere coming into power himself. There may, indeed, be some truth in that.

Confucius’s importance lies in the fact that he systematized a body of ideas, not of his own creation, and communicated it to a circle of disciples. His teachings were later set down in writing and formed, right down to the twentieth century, the moral code of the upper classes of China. Confucius was fully conscious of his membership of a social class whose existence was tied to that of the feudal lords. With their disappearance, his type of scholar would become superfluous. The common people, the lower class, was in his view in an entirely subordinate position. Thus his moral teaching is a code for the ruling class. Accordingly it retains almost unaltered the elements of the old cult of Heaven, following the old tradition inherited from the northern peoples. For him Heaven is not an arbitrarily governing divine tyrant, but the embodiment of a system of legality. Heaven does not act independently, but follows a universal law, the so-called “Tao”. Just as sun, moon, and stars move in the heavens in accordance with law, so man should conduct himself on earth in accord with the universal law, not against it. The ruler should not actively intervene in day-to-day policy, but should only act by setting an example, like Heaven; he should observe the established ceremonies, and offer all sacrifices in accordance with the rites, and then all else will go well in the world. The individual, too, should be guided exactly in his life by the prescriptions of the rites, so that harmony with the law of the universe may be established.

A second idea of the Confucian system came also from the old conceptions of the Chou conquerors, and thus originally from the northern peoples. This is the patriarchal idea, according to which the family is the cell of society, and at the head of the family stands the eldest male adult as a sort of patriarch. The state is simply an extension of the family, “state”, of course, meaning simply the class of the feudal lords (the “chuen-tz[)u]"). And the organization of the family is also that of the world of the gods. Within the family there are a number of ties, all of them, however, one-sided: that of father to son (the son having to obey the father unconditionally and having no rights of his own;) that of husband to wife (the wife had no rights); that of elder to younger brother. An extension of these is the association of friend with friend, which is conceived as an association between an elder and a younger brother. The final link, and the only one extending beyond the family and uniting it with the state, is the association of the ruler with the subject, a replica of that between father and son. The ruler in turn is in the position of son to Heaven. Thus in Confucianism the cult of Heaven, the family system, and the state are welded into unity. The frictionless functioning of this whole system is effected by everyone adhering to the rites, which prescribe every important action. It is necessary, of course, that in a large family, in which there may be up to a hundred persons living together, there shall be a precisely established ordering of relationships between individuals if there is not to be continual friction. Since the scholars of Confucius’s type specialized in the knowledge and conduct of ceremonies, Confucius gave ritualism a correspondingly important place both in spiritual and in practical life.

So far as we have described it above, the teaching of Confucius was a further development of the old cult of Heaven. Through bitter experience, however, Confucius had come to realize that nothing could be done with the ruling house as it existed in his day. So shadowy a figure as the Chou ruler of that time could not fulfil what Confucius required of the “Son of Heaven”. But the opinions of students of Confucius’s actual ideas differ. Some say that in the only book in which he personally had a hand, the so-called Annals of Spring and Autumn, he intended to set out his conception of the character of a true emperor; others say that in that book he showed how he would himself have acted as emperor, and that he was only awaiting an opportunity to make himself emperor. He was called indeed, at a later time, the “uncrowned ruler”. In any case, the Annals of Spring and Autumn seem to be simply a dry work of annals, giving the history of his native state of Lu on the basis of the older documents available to him. In his text, however, Confucius made small changes by means of which he expressed criticism or recognition; in this way he indirectly made known how in his view a ruler should act or should not act. He did not shrink from falsifying history, as can today be demonstrated. Thus on one occasion a ruler had to flee from a feudal prince, which in Confucius’s view was impossible behaviour for the ruler; accordingly he wrote instead that the ruler went on a hunting expedition. Elsewhere he tells of an eclipse of the sun on a certain day, on which in fact there was no eclipse. By writing of an eclipse he meant to criticize the way a ruler had acted, for the sun symbolized the ruler, and the eclipse meant that the ruler had not been guided by divine illumination. The demonstration that the Annals of Spring and Autumn can only be explained in this way was the achievement some thirty-five years ago of Otto Franke, and through this discovery Confucius’s work, which the old sinologists used to describe as a dry and inadequate book, has become of special value to us. The book ends with the year 481 B.C., and in spite of its distortions it is the principal source for the two-and-a-half centuries with which it deals.

Rendered alert by this experience, we are able to see and to show that most of the other later official works of history follow the example of the Annals of Spring and Autumn in containing things that have been deliberately falsified. This is especially so in the work called T’ung-chien kang-mu, which was the source of the history of the Chinese empire translated into French by de Maílla.

Apart from Confucius’s criticism of the inadequate capacity of the emperor of his day, there is discernible, though only in the form of cryptic hints, a fundamentally important progressive idea. It is that a nobleman (chuen-tz[)u] should not be a member of the ruling elite by right of birth alone, but should be a man of superior moral qualities. From Confucius on, “chuen-tz[)u]” became to mean “a gentleman”. Consequently, a country should not be ruled by a dynasty based on inheritance through birth, but by members of the nobility who show outstanding moral qualification for rulership. That is to say, the rule should pass from the worthiest to the worthiest, the successor first passing through a period of probation as a minister of state. In an unscrupulous falsification of the tradition, Confucius declared that this principle was followed in early times. It is probably safe to assume that Confucius had in view here an eventual justification of claims to rulership of his own.

Thus Confucius undoubtedly had ideas of reform, but he did not interfere with the foundations of feudalism. For the rest, his system consists only of a social order and a moral teaching. Metaphysics, logic, epistemology, i.e. branches of philosophy which played so great a part in the West, are of no interest to him. Nor can he be described as the founder of a religion; for the cult of Heaven of which he speaks and which he takes over existed in exactly the same form before his day. He is merely the man who first systematized those notions. He had no successes in his lifetime and gained no recognition; nor did his disciples or their disciples gain any general recognition; his work did not become of importance until some three hundred years after his death, when in the second century B.C. his teaching was adjusted to the new social conditions: out of a moral system for the decaying feudal society of the past centuries developed the ethic of the rising social order of the gentry. The gentry (in much the same way as the European bourgeoisie) continually claimed that there should be access for every civilized citizen to the highest places in the social pyramid, and the rules of Confucianism became binding on every member of society if he was to be considered a gentleman. Only then did Confucianism begin to develop into the imposing system that dominated China almost down to the present day. Confucianism did not become a religion. It was comparable to the later Japanese Shintoism, or to a group of customs among us which we all observe, if we do not want to find ourselves excluded from our community, but which we should never describe as religion. We stand up when the national anthem is played, we give precedency to older people, we erect war memorials and decorate them with flowers, and by these and many other things show our sense of belonging. A similar but much more conscious and much more powerful part was played by Confucianism in the life of the average Chinese, though he was not necessarily interested in philosophical ideas.

While the West has set up the ideal of individualism and is suffering now because it no longer has any ethical system to which individuals voluntarily submit; while for the Indians the social problem consisted in the solving of the question how every man could be enabled to live his life with as little disturbance as possible from his fellow-men, Confucianism solved the problem of how families with groups of hundreds of members could live together in peace and co-operation in a densely populated country. Everyone knew his position in the family and so, in a broader sense, in the state; and this prescribed his rights and duties. We may feel that the rules to which he was subjected were pedantic; but there was no limit to their effectiveness: they reduced to a minimum the friction that always occurs when great masses of people live close together; they gave Chinese society the strength through which it has endured; they gave security to its individuals. China’s first real social crisis after the collapse of feudalism, that is to say, after the fourth or third century B.C., began only in the present century with the collapse of the social order of the gentry and the breakdown of the family system.

7 Lao Tz[)u]

In eighteenth-century Europe Confucius was the only Chinese philosopher held in regard; in the last hundred years, the years of Europe’s internal crisis, the philosopher Lao Tz[)u] steadily advanced in repute, so that his book was translated almost a hundred times into various European languages. According to the general view among the Chinese, Lao Tz[)u] was an older contemporary of Confucius; recent Chinese and Western research (A. Waley; H.H. Dubs) has contested this view and places Lao Tz[)u] in the latter part of the fourth century B.C., or even later. Virtually nothing at all is known about his life; the oldest biography of Lao Tz[)u], written about 100 B.C., says that he lived as an official at the ruler’s court and, one day, became tired of the life of an official and withdrew from the capital to his estate, where he died in old age. This, too, may be legendary, but it fits well into the picture given to us by Lao Tz[)u]’s teaching and by the life of his later followers. From the second century A.D., that is to say at least four hundred years after his death, there are legends of his migrating to the far west. Still later narratives tell of his going to Turkestan (where a temple was actually built in his honour in the Medieval period); according to other sources he travelled as far as India or Sogdiana (Samarkand and Bokhara), where according to some accounts he was the teacher or forerunner of Buddha, and according to others of Mani, the founder of Manichaeism. For all this there is not a vestige of documentary evidence.

Lao Tz[)u]’s teaching is contained in a small book, the Tao Te Ching, the “Book of the World Law and its Power”. The book is written in quite simple language, at times in rhyme, but the sense is so vague that countless versions, differing radically from each other, can be based on it, and just as many translations are possible, all philologically defensible. This vagueness is deliberate.

Lao Tz[)u]’s teaching is essentially an effort to bring man’s life on earth into harmony with the life and law of the universe (Tao). This was also Confucius’s purpose. But while Confucius set out to attain that purpose in a sort of primitive scientific way, by laying down a number of rules of human conduct, Lao Tz[)u] tries to attain his ideal by an intuitive, emotional method. Lao Tz[)u] is always described as a mystic, but perhaps this is not entirely appropriate; it must be borne in mind that in his time the Chinese language, spoken and written, still had great difficulties in the expression of ideas. In reading Lao Tz[)u]’s book we feel that he is trying to express something for which the language of his day was inadequate; and what he wanted to express belonged to the emotional, not the intellectual, side of the human character, so that any perfectly clear expression of it in words was entirely impossible. It must be borne in mind that the Chinese language lacks definite word categories like substantive, adjective, adverb, or verb; any word can be used now in one category and now in another, with a few exceptions; thus the understanding of a combination like “white horse” formed a difficult logical problem for the thinker of the fourth century B.C.: did it mean “white” plus “horse”? Or was “white horse” no longer a horse at all but something quite different?

Confucius’s way of bringing human life into harmony with the life of the universe was to be a process of assimilating Man as a social being, Man in his social environment, to Nature, and of so maintaining his activity within the bounds of the community. Lao Tz[)u] pursues another path, the path for those who feel disappointed with life in the community. A Taoist, as a follower of Lao Tz[)u] is called, withdraws from all social life, and carries out none of the rites and ceremonies which a man of the upper class should observe throughout the day. He lives in self-imposed seclusion, in an elaborate primitivity which is often described in moving terms that are almost convincing of actual “primitivity”. Far from the city, surrounded by Nature, the Taoist lives his own life, together with a few friends and his servants, entirely according to his nature. His own nature, like everything else, represents for him a part of the Tao, and the task of the individual consists in the most complete adherence to the Tao that is conceivable, as far as possible performing no act that runs counter to the Tao. This is the main element of Lao Tz[)u]’s doctrine, the doctrine of wu-wei, “passive achievement”.

Lao Tz[)u] seems to have thought that this doctrine could be applied to the life of the state. He assumed that an ideal life in society was possible if everyone followed his own nature entirely and no artificial restrictions were imposed. Thus he writes: “The more the people are forbidden to do this and that, the poorer will they be. The more sharp weapons the people possess, the more will darkness and bewilderment spread through the land. The more craft and cunning men have, the more useless and pernicious contraptions will they invent. The more laws and edicts are imposed, the more thieves and bandits there will be. ’If I work through Non-action,’ says the Sage, ’the people will transform themselves.’" Thus according to Lao Tz[)u], who takes the existence of a monarchy for granted, the ruler must treat his subjects as follows: “By emptying their hearts of desire and their minds of envy, and by filling their stomachs with what they need; by reducing their ambitions and by strengthening their bones and sinews; by striving to keep them without the knowledge of what is evil and without cravings. Thus are the crafty ones given no scope for tempting interference. For it is by Non-action that the Sage governs, and nothing is really left uncontrolled."

Lao Tz[)u] did not live to learn that such rule of good government would be followed by only one sort of rulers dictators; and as a matter of fact the “Legalist theory” which provided the philosophic basis for dictatorship in the third century B.C. was attributable to Lao Tz[)u]. He was not thinking, however, of dictatorship; he was an individualistic anarchist, believing that if there were no active government all men would be happy. Then everyone could attain unity with Nature for himself. Thus we find in Lao Tz[)u], and later in all other Taoists, a scornful repudiation of all social and official obligations. An answer that became famous was given by the Taoist Chuang Tz[)u] (see below) when it was proposed to confer high office in the state on him (the story may or may not be true, but it is typical of Taoist thought): “I have heard,” he replied, “that in Ch’u there is a tortoise sacred to the gods. It has now been dead for 3,000 years, and the king keeps it in a shrine with silken cloths, and gives it shelter in the halls of a temple. Which do you think that tortoise would prefer to be dead and have its vestigial bones so honoured, or to be still alive and dragging its tail after it in the mud?” the officials replied: “No doubt it would prefer to be alive and dragging its tail after it in the mud.” Then spoke Chuang Tz[)u]: “Begone! I, too, would rather drag my tail after me in the mud!” (Chuang Tz[)u] 17, 10.)

The true Taoist withdraws also from his family. Typical of this is another story, surely apocryphal, from Chuang Tz[)u] (Ch. 3, 3). At the death of Lao Tz[)u] a disciple went to the family and expressed his sympathy quite briefly and formally. The other disciples were astonished, and asked his reason. He said: “Yes, at first I thought that he was our man, but he is not. When I went to grieve, the old men were bewailing him as though they were bewailing a son, and the young wept as though they were mourning a mother. To bind them so closely to himself, he must have spoken words which he should not have spoken, and wept tears which he should not have wept. That, however, is a falling away from the heavenly nature.”

Lao Tz[)u]’s teaching, like that of Confucius, cannot be described as religion; like Confucius’s, it is a sort of social philosophy, but of irrationalistic character. Thus it was quite possible, and later it became the rule, for one and the same person to be both Confucian and Taoist. As an official and as the head of his family, a man would think and act as a Confucian; as a private individual, when he had retired far from the city to live in his country mansion (often modestly described as a cave or a thatched hut), or when he had been dismissed from his post or suffered some other trouble, he would feel and think as a Taoist. In order to live as a Taoist it was necessary, of course, to possess such an estate, to which a man could retire with his servants, and where he could live without himself doing manual work. This difference between the Confucian and the Taoist found a place in the works of many Chinese poets. I take the following quotation from an essay by the statesman and poet Ts’ao Chih, of the end of the second century A.D.:

“Master Mysticus lived in deep seclusion on a mountain in the wilderness; he had withdrawn as in flight from the world, desiring to purify his spirit and give rest to his heart. He despised official activity, and no longer maintained any relations with the world; he sought quiet and freedom from care, in order in this way to attain everlasting life. He did nothing but send his thoughts wandering between sky and clouds, and consequently there was nothing worldly that could attract and tempt him.

“When Mr. Rationalist heard of this man, he desired to visit him, in order to persuade him to alter his views. He harnessed four horses, who could quickly traverse the plain, and entered his light fast carriage. He drove through the plain, leaving behind him the ruins of abandoned settlements; he entered the boundless wilderness, and finally reached the dwelling of Master Mysticus. Here there was a waterfall on one side, and on the other were high crags; at the back a stream flowed deep down in its bed, and in front was an odorous wood. The master wore a white doeskin cap and a striped fox-pelt. He came forward from a cave buried in the mountain, leaned against the tall crag, and enjoyed the prospect of wild nature. His ideas floated on the breezes, and he looked as if the wide spaces of the heavens and the countries of the earth were too narrow for him; as if he was going to fly but had not yet left the ground; as if he had already spread his wings but wanted to wait a moment. Mr. Rationalist climbed up with the aid of vine shoots, reached the top of the crag, and stepped up to him, saying very respectfully:

“’I have heard that a man of nobility does not flee from society, but seeks to gain fame; a man of wisdom does not swim against the current, but seeks to earn repute. You, however, despise the achievements of civilization and culture; you have no regard for the splendour of philanthropy and justice; you squander your powers here in the wilderness and neglect ordered relations between man....’”

Frequently Master Mysticus and Mr. Rationalist were united in a single person. Thus, Shih Ch’ung wrote in an essay on himself:

“In my youth I had great ambition and wanted to stand out above the multitude. Thus it happened that at a little over twenty years of age I was already a court official; I remained in the service for twenty-five years. When I was fifty I had to give up my post because of an unfortunate occurrence.... The older I became, the more I appreciated the freedom I had acquired; and as I loved forest and plain, I retired to my villa. When I built this villa, a long embankment formed the boundary behind it; in front the prospect extended over a clear canal; all around grew countless cypresses, and flowing water meandered round the house. There were pools there, and outlook towers; I bred birds and fishes. In my harem there were always good musicians who played dance tunes. When I went out I enjoyed nature or hunted birds and fished. When I came home, I enjoyed playing the lute or reading; I also liked to concoct an elixir of life and to take breathing exercises, because I did not want to die, but wanted one day to lift myself to the skies, like an immortal genius. Suddenly I was drawn back into the official career, and became once more one of the dignitaries of the Emperor.”

Thus Lao Tz[)u]’s individualist and anarchist doctrine was not suited to form the basis of a general Chinese social order, and its employment in support of dictatorship was certainly not in the spirit of Lao Tz[)u]. Throughout history, however, Taoism remained the philosophic attitude of individuals of the highest circle of society; its real doctrine never became popularly accepted; for the strong feeling for nature that distinguishes the Chinese, and their reluctance to interfere in the sanctified order of nature by technical and other deliberate acts, was not actually a result of Lao Tz[)u]’s teaching, but one of the fundamentals from which his ideas started.

If the date assigned to Lao Tz[)u] by present-day research (the fourth instead of the sixth century B.C.) is correct, he was more or less contemporary with Chuang Tz[)u], who was probably the most gifted poet among the Chinese philosophers and Taoists. A thin thread extends from them as far as the fourth century A.D.: Huai-nan Tz[)u], Chung-ch’ang T’ung, Yuean Chi (210-263), Liu Ling (221-300), and T’ao Ch’ien (365-427), are some of the most eminent names of Taoist philosophers. After that the stream of original thought dried up, and we rarely find a new idea among the late Taoists. These gentlemen living on their estates had acquired a new means of expressing their inmost feelings: they wrote poetry and, above all, painted. Their poems and paintings contain in a different outward form what Lao Tz[)u] had tried to express with the inadequate means of the language of his day. Thus Lao Tz[)u]’s teaching has had the strongest influence to this day in this field, and has inspired creative work which is among the finest achievements of mankind.