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very different in the two parts of the country. How could unity be
restored in these things?

Then there was the problem of population. The north-eastern plain had
always been thickly populated; it had early come under Toba rule and had
been able to develop further. The region round the old northern capital
Ch'ang-an, on the other hand, had suffered greatly from the struggles
before the Toba period and had never entirely recovered. Meanwhile, in
the south the population had greatly increased in the region north of
Nanking, while the regions south of the Yangtze and the upper Yangtze
valley were more thinly peopled. The real South, i.e. the modern
provinces of Fukien, Kwangtung and Kwangsi, was still underdeveloped,
mainly because of the malaria there. In the matter of population the
north unquestionably remained prominent.

The founder of the Sui dynasty, known by his reign name of Wen Ti
(589-604), came from the west, close to Ch'ang-an. There he and his
following had their extensive domains. Owing to the scanty population
there and the resulting shortage of agricultural labourers, these
properties were very much less productive than the small properties in
the north-east. This state of things was well known in the south, and it
was expected, with good reason, that the government would try to
transfer parts of the population to the north-west, in order to settle a
peasantry round the capital for the support of its greatly increasing
staff of officials, and to satisfy the gentry of the region. This
produced several revolts in the south.

As an old soldier who had long been a subject of the Toba, Wen Ti had no
great understanding of theory: he was a practical man. He was
anti-intellectual and emotionally attached to Buddhism; he opposed
Confucianism for emotional reasons and believed that it could give him
no serviceable officials of the sort he wanted. He demanded from his
officials the same obedience and sense of duty as from his soldiers; and
he was above all thrifty, almost miserly, because he realized that the
finances of his state could only be brought into order by the greatest
exertions. The budget had to be drawn up for the vast territory of the
empire without any possibility of saying in advance whether the revenues
would come in and whether the transport of dues to the capital would

This cautious calculation was entirely justified, but it aroused great
opposition. Both east and south were used to a much better style of
living; yet the gentry of both regions were now required to cut down
their consumption. On top of this they were excluded from the conduct of
political affairs. In the past, under the Northern Ch'i empire in the
north-east and under the Ch'en empire in the south, there had been
thousands of positions at court in which the whole of the gentry could
find accommodation of some kind. Now the central government was far in
the west, and other people were its administrators. In the past the
gentry had a profitable and easily accessible market for their produce
in the neighbouring capital; now the capital was far away, entailing
long-distance transport at heavy risk with little profit.

The dissatisfied circles of the gentry in the north-east and in the
south incited Prince Kuang to rebellion. The prince and his followers
murdered the emperor and set aside the heir-apparent; and Kuang came to
the throne, assuming the name of Yang Ti. His first act was to transfer
the capital back to the east, to Loyang, close to the grain-producing
regions. His second achievement was to order the construction of great
canals, to facilitate the transport of grain to the capital and to
provide a valuable new market for the producers in the north-east and
the south. It was at this time that the first forerunner of the famous
"Imperial Canal" was constructed, the canal that connects the Yangtze
with the Yellow River. Small canals, connecting various streams, had
long been in existence, so that it was possible to travel from north to
south by water, but these canals were not deep enough or broad enough to
take large freight barges. There are records of lighters of 500 and even
800 tons capacity! These are dimensions unheard of in the West in those
times. In addition to a serviceable canal to the south, Yang Ti made
another that went north almost to the present Peking.

Hand in hand with these successes of the north-eastern and southern
gentry went strong support for Confucianism, and a reorganization of the
Confucian examination system. As a rule, however, the examinations were
circumvented as an unimportant formality; the various governors were
ordered each to send annually to the capital three men with the required
education, for whose quality they were held personally responsible;
merchants and artisans were expressly excluded.

2 _Relations with Turks and with Korea_

In foreign affairs an extraordinarily fortunate situation for the Sui
dynasty had come into existence. The T'u-chüeh, the Turks, much the
strongest people of the north, had given support now to one and now to
another of the northern kingdoms, and this, together with their many
armed incursions, had made them the dominant political factor in the
north. But in the first year of the Sui period (581) they split into two
sections, so that the Sui had hopes of gaining influence over them. At
first both sections of the Turks had entered into alliance with China,
but this was not a sufficient safeguard for the Sui, for one of the
Turkish khans was surrounded by Toba who had fled from the vanished
state of the Northern Chou, and who now tried to induce the Turks to
undertake a campaign for the reconquest of North China. The leader of
this agitation was a princess of the Yü-wen family, the ruling family of
the Northern Chou. The Chinese fought the Turks several times; but much
more effective results were gained by their diplomatic missions, which
incited the eastern against the western Turks and vice versa, and also
incited the Turks against the Toba clique. In the end one of the
sections of Turks accepted Chinese overlordship, and some tribes of the
other section were brought over to the Chinese side; also, fresh
disunion was sown among the Turks.

Under the emperor Yang Ti, P'ei Chü carried this policy further. He
induced the Tölös tribes to attack the T'u-yü-hun, and then himself
attacked the latter, so destroying their power. The T'u-yü-hun were a
people living in the extreme north of Tibet, under a ruling class
apparently of Hsien-pi origin; the people were largely Tibetan. The
purpose of the conquest of the T'u-yü-hun was to safeguard access to
Central Asia. An effective Turkestan policy was, however, impossible so
long as the Turks were still a formidable power. Accordingly, the
intrigues that aimed at keeping the two sections of Turks apart were
continued. In 615 came a decisive counter-attack from the Turks. Their
khan, Shih-pi, made a surprise assault on the emperor himself, with all
his following, in the Ordos region, and succeeded in surrounding them.
They were in just the same desperate situation as when, eight centuries
earlier, the Chinese emperor had been beleaguered by Mao Tun. But the
Chinese again saved themselves by a trick. The young Chinese commander,
Li Shih-min, succeeded in giving the Turks the impression that large
reinforcements were on the way; a Chinese princess who was with the
Turks spread the rumour that the Turks were to be attacked by another
tribe - and Shih-pi raised the siege, although the Chinese had been
entirely defeated.

In the Sui period the Chinese were faced with a further problem. Korea
or, rather, the most important of the three states in Korea, had
generally been on friendly terms with the southern state during the
period of China's division, and for this reason had been more or less
protected from its North Chinese neighbours. After the unification of
China, Korea had reason for seeking an alliance with the Turks, in order
to secure a new counterweight against China.

A Turco-Korean alliance would have meant for China a sort of
encirclement that might have grave consequences. The alliance might be
extended to Japan, who had certain interests in Korea. Accordingly the
Chinese determined to attack Korea, though at the same time negotiations
were set on foot. The fighting, which lasted throughout the Sui period,
involved technical difficulties, as it called for combined land and sea
attacks; in general it brought little success.

3 _Reasons for collapse_

The continual warfare entailed great expense, and so did the intrigues,
because they depended for their success on bribery. Still more expensive
were the great canal works. In addition to this, the emperor Yang Ti,
unlike his father, was very extravagant. He built enormous palaces and
undertook long journeys throughout the empire with an immense following.
All this wrecked the prosperity which his father had built up and had
tried to safeguard. The only productive expenditure was that on the
canals, and they could not begin to pay in so short a period. The
emperor's continual journeys were due, no doubt, in part simply to the
pursuit of pleasure, though they were probably intended at the same time
to hinder risings and to give the emperor direct control over every part
of the country. But the empire was too large and too complex for its
administration to be possible in the midst of journeying.

[Illustration: Map 5: The T'ang realm (_about A.D. 750_)]

The whole of the chancellery had to accompany the emperor, and all the
transport necessary for the feeding of the emperor and his government
had continually to be diverted to wherever he happened to be staying.
All this produced disorder and unrest. The gentry, who at first had so
strongly supported the emperor and had been able to obtain anything they
wanted from him, now began to desert him and set up pretenders. From 615
onward, after the defeat at the hands of the Turks, risings broke out
everywhere. The emperor had to establish his government in the south,
where he felt safer. There, however, in 618, he was assassinated by
conspirators led by Toba of the Yü-wen family. Everywhere now
independent governments sprang up, and for five years China was split up
into countless petty states.

(B) The T'ang dynasty (A.D. 618-906)

1 _Reforms and decentralization_

The hero of the Turkish siege, Li Shih-min, had allied himself with the
Turks in 615-16. There were special reasons for his ability to do this.
In his family it had been a regular custom to marry women belonging to
Toba families, so that he naturally enjoyed the confidence of the Toba
party among the Turks. There are various theories as to the origin of
his family, the Li. The family itself claimed to be descended from the
ruling family of the Western Liang. It is doubtful whether that family
was purely Chinese, and in any case Li Shih-min's descent from it is a
matter of doubt. It is possible that his family was a sinified Toba
family, or at least came from a Toba region. However this may be, Li
Shih-min continued the policy which had been pursued since the beginning
of the Sui dynasty by the members of the deposed Toba ruling family of
the Northern Chou - the policy of collaboration with the Turks in the
effort to remove the Sui.

The nominal leadership in the rising that now began lay in the hands of
Li Shih-min's father, Li Yüan; in practice Li Shih-min saw to
everything. At the end of 617 he was outside the first capital of the
Sui, Ch'ang-an, with a Turkish army that had come to his aid on the
strength of the treaty of alliance. After capturing Ch'ang-an he
installed a puppet emperor there, a grandson of Yang Ti. In 618 the
puppet was dethroned and Li Yüan, the father, was made emperor, in the
T'ang dynasty. Internal fighting went on until 623, and only then was
the whole empire brought under the rule of the T'ang.

Great reforms then began. A new land law aimed at equalizing ownership,
so that as far as possible all peasants should own the same amount of
land and the formation of large estates be prevented. The law aimed also
at protecting the peasants from the loss of their land. The law was,
however, nothing but a modification of the Toba land law (_chün-t'ien_),
and it was hoped that now it would provide a sound and solid economic
foundation for the empire. From the first, however, members of the
gentry who were connected with the imperial house were given a
privileged position; then officials were excluded from the prohibition
of leasing, so that there continued to be tenant farmers in addition to
the independent peasants. Moreover, the temples enjoyed special
treatment, and were also exempted from taxation. All these exceptions
brought grist to the mills of the gentry, and so did the failure to
carry into effect many of the provisions of the law. Before long a new
gentry had been formed, consisting of the old gentry together with those
who had directly aided the emperor's ascent to the throne. From the
beginning of the eighth century there were repeated complaints that
peasants were "disappearing". They were entering the service of the
gentry as tenant farmers or farm workers, and owing to the privileged
position of the gentry in regard to taxation, the revenue sank in
proportion as the number of independent peasants decreased. One of the
reasons for the flight of farmers may have been the corvée laws
connected with the "equal land" system: small families were much less
affected by the corvée obligation than larger families with many sons.
It may be, therefore, that large families or at least sons of the sons
in large families moved away in order to escape these obligations. In
order to prevent irregularities, the T'ang renewed the old "_pao-chia_"
system, as a part of a general reform of the administration in 624. In
this system groups of five families were collectively responsible for
the payment of taxes, the corvée, for crimes committed by individuals
within one group, and for loans from state agencies. Such a system is
attested for pre-Christian times already; it was re-activated in the
eleventh century and again from time to time, down to the present.

Yet the system of land equalization soon broke down and was abolished
officially around A.D. 780. But the classification of citizens into
different classes, first legalized under the Toba, was retained and even
more refined.

As early as in the Han period there had been a dual administration - the
civil and, independent of it, the military administration. One and the
same area would belong to a particular administrative prefecture
(_chün_) and at the same time to a particular military prefecture
(_chou_). This dual organization had persisted during the Toba period
and, at first, remained unchanged in the beginning of the T'ang.

The backbone of the military power in the seventh century was the
militia, some six hundred units of an average of a thousand men,
recruited from the general farming population for short-term service:
one month in five in the areas close to the capital. These men formed a
part of the emperor's guards and were under the command of members of
the Shensi gentry. This system which had its direct parallels in the Han
time and evolved out of a Toba system, broke down when short offensive
wars were no longer fought. Other imperial guards were staffed with
young sons of the gentry who were stationed in the most delicate parts
of the palaces. The emperor T'ai-tsung had his personal bodyguard, a
part of his own army of conquest, consisting of his former bondsmen
(_pu-ch'ü_). The ranks of the Army of conquest were later filled by
descendants of the original soldiers and by orphans.

In the provinces, the armies of the military prefectures gradually lost
their importance when wars became longer and militiamen proved
insufficient. Many of the soldiers here were convicts and exiles. It is
interesting to note that the title of the commander of these armies,
_tu-tu_, in the fourth century meant a commander in the church-Taoist
organization; it was used by the Toba and from the seventh century on
became widely accepted as title among the Uighurs, Tibetans, Sogdians,
Turks and Khotanese.

When the prefectural armies and the militia forces weakened, special
regional armies were created (from 678 on); this institution had existed
among the Toba, but they had greatly reduced these armies after 500. The
commanders of these new T'ang armies soon became more important than the
civil administrators, because they commanded a number of districts
making up a whole province. This assured a better functioning of the
military machine, but put the governors-general in a position to pursue
a policy of their own, even against the central government. In addition
to this, the financial administration of their commands was put under
them, whereas in the past it had been in the hands of the civil
administration of the various provinces. The civil administration was
also reorganized (see the table on pages 83-84).

Towards the end of the T'ang period the state secretariat was set up in
two parts: it was in possession of all information about the economic
and political affairs of the empire, and it made the actual decisions.
Moreover, a number of technical departments had been created - in all, a
system that might compare favourably with European systems of the
eighteenth century. At the end of the T'ang period there was added to
this system a section for economic affairs, working quite independently
of it and directly under the emperor; it was staffed entirely with
economic or financial experts, while for the staffing of the other
departments no special qualification was demanded besides the passing of
the state examinations. In addition to these, at the end of the T'ang
period a new department was in preparation, a sort of Privy Council, a
mainly military organization, probably intended to control the generals
(section 3 of the table on page 83), just as the state secretariat
controlled the civil officials. The Privy Council became more and more
important in the tenth century and especially in the Mongol epoch. Its
absence in the early T'ang period gave the military governors much too
great freedom, ultimately with baneful results.

At first, however, the reforms of A.D. 624 worked well. The
administration showed energy, and taxes flowed in. In the middle of the
eighth century the annual budget of the state included the following
items: over a million tons of grain for the consumption of the capital
and the palace and for salaries of civil and military officials;
twenty-seven million pieces of textiles, also for the consumption of
capital and palace and army, and for supplementary purchases of grain;
two million strings of money (a string nominally held a thousand copper
coins) for salaries and for the army. This was much more than the state
budget of the Han period. The population of the empire had also
increased; it seems to have amounted to some fifty millions. In the
capital a large staff of officials had been created to meet all
administrative needs. The capital grew enormously, at times containing
two million people. Great numbers of young members of the gentry
streamed into the capital for the examinations held under the Confucian

The crowding of people into the capital and the accumulation of
resources there promoted a rich cultural life. We know of many poets of
that period whose poems were real masterpieces; and artists whose works
were admired centuries later. These poets and artists were the pioneers
of the flourishing culture of the later T'ang period. Hand in hand with
this went luxury and refinement of manners. For those who retired from
the bustle of the capital to work on their estates and to enjoy the
society of their friends, there was time to occupy themselves with
Taoism and Buddhism, especially meditative Buddhism. Everyone, of
course, was Confucian, as was fitting for a member of the gentry, but
Confucianism was so taken for granted that it was not discussed. It was
the basis of morality for the gentry, but held no problems. It no longer
contained anything of interest.

Conditions had been much the same once before, at the court of the Han
emperors, but with one great difference: at that time everything of
importance took place in the capital; now, in addition to the actual
capital, Ch'ang-an, there was the second capital, Loyang, in no way
inferior to the other in importance; and the great towns in the south
also played their part as commercial and cultural centres that had
developed in the 360 years of division between north and south. There
the local gentry gathered to lead a cultivated life, though not quite in
the grand style of the capital. If an official was transferred to the
Yangtze, it no longer amounted to a punishment as in the past; he would
not meet only uneducated people, but a society resembling that of the
capital. The institution of governors-general further promoted this
decentralization: the governor-general surrounded himself with a little
court of his own, drawn from the local gentry and the local
intelligentsia. This placed the whole edifice of the empire on a much
broader foundation, with lasting results.

2 _Turkish policy_

The foreign policy of this first period of the T'ang, lasting until
about 690, was mainly concerned with the Turks and Turkestan. There were
still two Turkish realms in the Far East, both of considerable strength
but in keen rivalry with each other. The T'ang had come into power with
the aid of the eastern Turks, but they admitted the leader of the
western Turks to their court; he had been at Ch'ang-an in the time of
the Sui. He was murdered, however, by Chinese at the instigation of the
eastern Turks. The next khan of the eastern Turks nevertheless turned
against the T'ang, and gave his support to a still surviving pretender
to the throne representing the Sui dynasty; the khan contended that the
old alliance of the eastern Turks had been with the Sui and not with the
T'ang. The T'ang therefore tried to come to terms once more with the
western Turks, who had been affronted by the assassination; but the
negotiations came to nothing in face of an approach made by the eastern
Turks to the western, and of the distrust of the Chinese with which all
the Turks were filled. About 624 there were strong Turkish invasions,
carried right up to the capital. Suddenly, however, for reasons not
disclosed by the Chinese sources, the Turks withdrew, and the T'ang were
able to conclude a fairly honourable peace. This was the time of the
maximum power of the eastern Turks. Shortly afterwards disturbances
broke out (627), under the leadership of Turkish Uighurs and their
allies. The Chinese took advantage of these disturbances, and in a great
campaign in 629-30 succeeded in overthrowing the eastern Turks; the khan
was taken to the imperial court in Ch'ang-an, and the Chinese emperor
made himself "Heavenly Khan" of the Turks. In spite of the protest of
many of the ministers, who pointed to the result of the settlement
policy of the Later Han dynasty, the eastern Turks were settled in the
bend of the upper Hwang-ho and placed more or less under the
protectorate of two governors-general. Their leaders were admitted into
the Chinese army, and the sons of their nobles lived at the imperial
court. No doubt it was hoped in this way to turn the Turks into Chinese,
as had been done with the Toba, though for entirely different reasons.
More than a million Turks were settled in this way, and some of them
actually became Chinese later and gained important posts.

In general, however, this in no way broke the power of the Turks. The
great Turkish empire, which extended as far as Byzantium, continued to
exist. The Chinese success had done no more than safeguard the frontier
from a direct menace and frustrate the efforts of the supporters of the
Sui dynasty and the Toba dynasty, who had been living among the eastern
Turks and had built on them. The power of the western Turks remained a
lasting menace to China, especially if they should succeed in
co-operating with the Tibetans. After the annihilation of the T'u-yü-hun
by the Sui at the very beginning of the seventh century, a new political
unit had formed in northern Tibet, the T'u-fan, who also seem to have
had an upper class of Turks and Mongols and a Tibetan lower class. Just
as in the Han period, Chinese policy was bound to be directed to
preventing a union between Turks and Tibetans. This, together with

Online LibraryWolfram EberhardA History of China → online text (page 18 of 39)