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negative, passive action (Yang and Yin) of the five elements, wood,
fire, earth, metal, and water (Wu hsing). But Tsou Yen also considered
the form of the world, and was the first to put forward the theory that
the world consists not of a single continent with China in the middle of
it, but of nine continents. The names of these continents sound like
Indian names, and his idea of a central world-mountain may well have
come from India. The "scholars" of his time were quite unable to
appreciate this beginning of science, which actually led to the
contention of this school, in the first century B.C., that the earth was
of spherical shape. Tsou Yen himself was ridiculed as a dreamer; but
very soon, when the idea of the reciprocal destruction of the elements
was applied, perhaps by Tsou Yen himself, to politics, namely when, in
connection with the astronomical calculations much cultivated by this
school and through the identification of dynasties with the five
elements, the attempt was made to explain and to calculate the duration
and the supersession of dynasties, strong pressure began to be brought
to bear against this school. For hundreds of years its books were
distributed and read only in secret, and many of its members were
executed as revolutionaries. Thus, this school, instead of becoming the
nucleus of a school of natural science, was driven underground. The
secret societies which started to arise clearly from the first century
B.C. on, but which may have been in existence earlier, adopted the
politico-scientific ideas of Tsou Yen's school. Such secret societies
have existed in China down to the present time. They all contained a
strong religious, but heterodox element which can often be traced back
to influences from a foreign religion. In times of peace they were
centres of a true, emotional religiosity. In times of stress, a
"messianic" element tended to become prominent: the world is bad and
degenerating; morality and a just social order have decayed, but the
coming of a savior is close; the saviour will bring a new, fair order
and destroy those who are wicked. Tsou Yen's philosophy seemed to allow
them to calculate when this new order would start; later secret
societies contained ideas from Iranian Mazdaism, Manichaeism and
Buddhism, mixed with traits from the popular religions and often couched
in terms taken from the Taoists. The members of such societies were,
typically, ordinary farmers who here found an emotional outlet for their
frustrations in daily life. In times of stress, members of the leading
_élite_ often but not always established contacts with these societies,
took over their leadership and led them to open rebellion. The fate of
Tsou Yen's school did not mean that the Chinese did not develop in the
field of sciences. At about Tsou Yen's lifetime, the first mathematical
handbook was written. From these books it is obvious that the interest
of the government in calculating the exact size of fields, the content
of measures for grain, and other fiscal problems stimulated work in this
field, just as astronomy developed from the interest of the government
in the fixation of the calendar. Science kept on developing in other
fields, too, but mainly as a hobby of scholars and in the shops of
craftsmen, if it did not have importance for the administration and
especially taxation and budget calculations.

Chapter Five

THE CH'IN DYNASTY (256-207 B.C.)

1 _Towards the unitary State_

In 256 B.C. the last ruler of the Chou dynasty abdicated in favour of
the feudal lord of the state of Ch'in. Some people place the beginning
of the Ch'in dynasty in that year, 256 B.C.; others prefer the date 221
B.C., because it was only in that year that the remaining feudal states
came to their end and Ch'in really ruled all China.

The territories of the state of Ch'in, the present Shensi and eastern
Kansu, were from a geographical point of view transit regions, closed
off in the north by steppes and deserts and in the south by almost
impassable mountains. Only between these barriers, along the rivers Wei
(in Shensi) and T'ao (in Kansu), is there a rich cultivable zone which
is also the only means of transit from east to west. All traffic from
and to Turkestan had to take this route. It is believed that strong
relations with eastern Turkestan began in this period, and the state of
Ch'in must have drawn big profits from its "foreign trade". The merchant
class quickly gained more and more importance. The population was
growing through immigration from the east which the government
encouraged. This growing population with its increasing means of
production, especially the great new irrigation systems, provided a
welcome field for trade which was also furthered by the roads, though
these were actually built for military purposes.

The state of Ch'in had never been so closely associated with the feudal
communities of the rest of China as the other feudal states. A great
part of its population, including the ruling class, was not purely
Chinese but contained an admixture of Turks and Tibetans. The other
Chinese even called Ch'in a "barbarian state", and the foreign influence
was, indeed, unceasing. This was a favourable soil for the overcoming of
feudalism, and the process was furthered by the factors mentioned in the
preceding chapter, which were leading to a change in the social
structure of China. Especially the recruitment of the whole population,
including the peasantry, for war was entirely in the interest of the
influential nomad fighting peoples within the state. About 250 B.C.,
Ch'in was not only one of the economically strongest among the feudal
states, but had already made an end of its own feudal system.

Every feudal system harbours some seeds of a bureaucratic system of
administration: feudal lords have their personal servants who are not
recruited from the nobility, but who by their easy access to the lord
can easily gain importance. They may, for instance, be put in charge of
estates, workshops, and other properties of the lord and thus acquire
experience in administration and an efficiency which are obviously of
advantage to the lord. When Chinese lords of the preceding period, with
the help of their sub-lords of the nobility, made wars, they tended to
put the newly-conquered areas not into the hands of newly-enfeoffed
noblemen, but to keep them as their property and to put their
administration into the hands of efficient servants; these were the
first bureaucratic officials. Thus, in the course of the later Chou
period, a bureaucratic system of administration had begun to develop,
and terms like "district" or "prefecture" began to appear, indicating
that areas under a bureaucratic administration existed beside and inside
areas under feudal rule. This process had gone furthest in Ch'in and was
sponsored by the representatives of the Legalist School, which was best
adapted to the new economic and social situation.

A son of one of the concubines of the penultimate feudal ruler of Ch'in
was living as a hostage in the neighbouring state of Chao, in what is
now northern Shansi. There he made the acquaintance of an unusual man,
the merchant Lü Pu-wei, a man of education and of great political
influence. Lü Pu-wei persuaded the feudal ruler of Ch'in to declare this
son his successor. He also sold a girl to the prince to be his wife, and
the son of this marriage was to be the famous and notorious Shih
Huang-ti. Lü Pu-wei came with his protege to Ch'in, where he became his
Prime Minister, and after the prince's death in 247 B.C. Lü Pu-wei
became the regent for his young son Shih Huang-ti (then called Cheng).
For the first time in Chinese history a merchant, a commoner, had
reached one of the highest positions in the state. It is not known what
sort of trade Lü Pu-wei had carried on, but probably he dealt in horses,
the principal export of the state of Chao. As horses were an absolute
necessity for the armies of that time, it is easy to imagine that a
horse-dealer might gain great political influence.

Soon after Shih Huang-ti's accession Lü Pu-wei was dismissed, and a new
group of advisers, strong supporters of the Legalist school, came into
power. These new men began an active policy of conquest instead of the
peaceful course which Lü Pu-wei had pursued. One campaign followed
another in the years from 230 to 222, until all the feudal states had
been conquered, annexed, and brought under Shih Huang-ti's rule.

2 _Centralization in every field_

The main task of the now gigantic realm was the organization of
administration. One of the first acts after the conquest of the other
feudal states was to deport all the ruling families and other important
nobles to the capital of Ch'in; they were thus deprived of the basis of
their power, and their land could be sold. These upper-class families
supplied to the capital a class of consumers of luxury goods which
attracted craftsmen and businessmen and changed the character of the
capital from that of a provincial town to a centre of arts and crafts.
It was decided to set up the uniform system of administration throughout
the realm, which had already been successfully introduced in Ch'in: the
realm was split up into provinces and the provinces into prefectures;
and an official was placed in charge of each province or prefecture.
Originally the prefectures in Ch'in had been placed directly under the
central administration, with an official, often a merchant, being
responsible for the collection of taxes; the provinces, on the other
hand, formed a sort of military command area, especially in the
newly-conquered frontier territories. With the growing militarization of
Ch'in, greater importance was assigned to the provinces, and the
prefectures were made subordinate to them. Thus the officials of the
provinces were originally army officers but now, in the reorganization
of the whole realm, the distinction between civil and military
administration was abolished. At the head of the province were a civil
and also a military governor, and both were supervised by a controller
directly responsible to the emperor. Since there was naturally a
continual struggle for power between these three officials, none of them
was supreme and none could develop into a sort of feudal lord. In this
system we can see the essence of the later Chinese administration.

[Illustration: 3 Bronze plaque representing two horses fighting each
other. Ordos region, animal style. _From V. Griessmaier: Sammlung Baron
Eduard von der Heydt, Vienna_ 1936, _illustration No_. 6.]

[Illustration: 4 Hunting scene: detail from the reliefs in the tombs at
Wu-liang-tz'u. _From a print in the author's possession_.]

[Illustration: 5 Part of the 'Great Wall'. _Photo Eberhard_.]

Owing to the centuries of division into independent feudal states, the
various parts of the country had developed differently. Each province
spoke a different dialect which also contained many words borrowed from
the language of the indigenous population; and as these earlier
populations sometimes belonged to different races with different
languages, in each state different words had found their way into the
Chinese dialects. This caused divergences not only in the spoken but in
the written language, and even in the characters in use for writing.
There exist to this day dictionaries in which the borrowed words of that
time are indicated, and keys to the various old forms of writing also
exist. Thus difficulties arose if, for instance, a man from the old
territory of Ch'in was to be transferred as an official to the east: he
could not properly understand the language and could not read the
borrowed words, if he could read at all! For a large number of the
officials of that time, especially the officers who became military
governors, were certainly unable to read. The government therefore
ordered that the language of the whole country should be unified, and
that a definite style of writing should be generally adopted. The words
to be used were set out in lists, so that the first lexicography came
into existence simply through the needs of practical administration, as
had happened much earlier in Babylon. Thus, the few recently found
manuscripts from pre-Ch'in times still contain a high percentage of
Chinese characters which we cannot read because they were local
characters; but all words in texts after the Ch'in time can be read
because they belong to the standardized script. We know now that all
classical texts of pre-Ch'in time as we have them today, have been
re-written in this standardized script in the second century B.C.: we do
not know which words they actually contained at the time when they were
composed, nor how these words were actually pronounced, a fact which
makes the reconstruction of Chinese language before Ch'in very

The next requirement for the carrying on of the administration was the
unification of weights and measures and, a surprising thing to us, of
the gauge of the tracks for wagons. In the various feudal states there
had been different weights and measures in use, and this had led to
great difficulties in the centralization of the collection of taxes. The
centre of administration, that is to say the new capital of Ch'in, had
grown through the transfer of nobles and through the enormous size of
the administrative staff into a thickly populated city with very large
requirements of food. The fields of the former state of Ch'in alone
could not feed the city; and the grain supplied in payment of taxation
had to be brought in from far around, partly by cart. The only roads
then existing consisted of deep cart-tracks. If the axles were not of
the same length for all carts, the roads were simply unusable for many
of them. Accordingly a fixed length was laid down for axles. The
advocates of all these reforms were also their beneficiaries, the

The first principle of the Legalist school, a principle which had been
applied in Ch'in and which was to be extended to the whole realm, was
that of the training of the population in discipline and obedience, so
that it should become a convenient tool in the hands of the officials.
This requirement was best met by a people composed as far as possible
only of industrious, uneducated, and tax-paying peasants. Scholars and
philosophers were not wanted, in so far as they were not directly
engaged in work commissioned by the state. The Confucianist writings
came under special attack because they kept alive the memory of the old
feudal conditions, preaching the ethic of the old feudal class which had
just been destroyed and must not be allowed to rise again if the state
was not to suffer fresh dissolution or if the central administration was
not to be weakened. In 213 B.C. there took place the great holocaust of
books which destroyed the Confucianist writings with the exception of
one copy of each work for the State Library. Books on practical subjects
were not affected. In the fighting at the end of the Ch'in dynasty the
State Library was burnt down, so that many of the old works have only
come down to us in an imperfect state and with doubtful accuracy. The
real loss arose, however, from the fact that the new generation was
little interested in the Confucianist literature, so that when, fifty
years later, the effort was made to restore some texts from the oral
tradition, there no longer existed any scholars who really knew them by
heart, as had been customary in the past.

In 221 B.C. Shih Huang-ti had become emperor of all China. The judgments
passed on him vary greatly: the official Chinese historiography rejects
him entirely - naturally, for he tried to exterminate Confucianism, while
every later historian was himself a Confucian. Western scholars often
treat him as one of the greatest men in world history. Closer research
has shown that Shih Huang-ti was evidently an average man without any
great gifts, that he was superstitious, and shared the tendency of his
time to mystical and shamanistic notions. His own opinion was that he
was the first of a series of ten thousand emperors of his dynasty (Shih
Huang-ti means "First Emperor"), and this merely suggests megalomania.
The basic principles of his administration had been laid down long
before his time by the philosophers of the Legalist school, and were
given effect by his Chancellor Li Ss[)u]. Li Ss[)u] was the really great
personality of that period. The Legalists taught that the ruler must do
as little as possible himself. His Ministers were there to act for him.
He himself was to be regarded as a symbol of Heaven. In that capacity
Shih Huang-ti undertook periodical journeys into the various parts of
the empire, less for any practical purpose of inspection than for
purposes of public worship. They corresponded to the course of the sun,
and this indicates that Shih Huang-ti had adopted a notion derived from
the older northern culture of the nomad peoples.

He planned the capital in an ambitious style but, although there was
real need for extension of the city, his plans can scarcely be regarded
as of great service. His enormous palace, and also his mausoleum which
was built for him before his death, were constructed in accordance with
astral notions. Within the palace the emperor continually changed his
residential quarters, probably not only from fear of assassination but
also for astral reasons. His mausoleum formed a hemispherical dome, and
all the stars of the sky were painted on its interior.

3 _Frontier defence. Internal collapse_

When the empire had been unified by the destruction of the feudal
states, the central government became responsible for the protection of
the frontiers from attack from without. In the south there were only
peoples in a very low state of civilization, who could offer no serious
menace to the Chinese. The trading colonies that gradually extended to
Canton and still farther south served as Chinese administrative centres
for provinces and prefectures, with small but adequate armies of their
own, so that in case of need they could defend themselves. In the north
the position was much more difficult. In addition to their conquest
within China, the rulers of Ch'in had pushed their frontier far to the
north. The nomad tribes had been pressed back and deprived of their best
pasturage, namely the Ordos region. When the livelihood of nomad peoples
is affected, when they are threatened with starvation, their tribes
often collect round a tribal leader who promises new pasturage and
better conditions of life for all who take part in the common campaigns.
In this way the first great union of tribes in the north of China came
into existence in this period, forming the realm of the Hsiung-nu under
their first leader, T'ou-man. This first realm of the Hsiung-nu was not
yet extensive, but its ambitious and warlike attitude made it a danger
to Ch'in. It was therefore decided to maintain a large permanent army in
the north. In addition to this, the frontier walls already existing in
the mountains were rebuilt and made into a single great system. Thus
came into existence in 214 B.C., out of the blood and sweat of countless
pressed labourers, the famous Great Wall.

On one of his periodical journeys the emperor fell ill and died. His
death was the signal for the rising of many rebellious elements. Nobles
rose in order to regain power and influence; generals rose because they
objected to the permanent pressure from the central administration and
their supervision by controllers; men of the people rose as popular
leaders because the people were more tormented than ever by forced
labour, generally at a distance from their homes. Within a few months
there were six different rebellions and six different "rulers".
Assassinations became the order of the day; the young heir to the throne
was removed in this way and replaced by another young prince. But as
early as 206 B.C. one of the rebels, Liu Chi (also called Liu Pang),
entered the capital and dethroned the nominal emperor. Liu Chi at first
had to retreat and was involved in hard fighting with a rival, but
gradually he succeeded in gaining the upper hand and defeated not only
his rival but also the other eighteen states that had been set up anew
in China in those years.


Chapter Six

THE HAN DYNASTY (206 B.C.-A.D. 220)

I _Development of the gentry-state_

In 206 B.C. Liu Chi assumed the title of Emperor and gave his dynasty
the name of the Han Dynasty. After his death he was given as emperor the
name of Kao Tsu.[4] The period of the Han dynasty may be described as
the beginning of the Chinese Middle Ages, while that of the Ch'in
dynasty represents the transition from antiquity to the Middle Ages; for
under the Han dynasty we meet in China with a new form of state, the
"gentry state". The feudalism of ancient times has come definitely to
its end.

[Footnote 4: From then on, every emperor was given after his death an
official name as emperor, under which he appears in the Chinese sources.
We have adopted the original or the official name according to which of
the two has come into the more general use in Western books.]

Emperor Kao Tsu came from eastern China, and his family seems to have
been a peasant family; in any case it did not belong to the old
nobility. After his destruction of his strongest rival, the removal of
the kings who had made themselves independent in the last years of the
Ch'in dynasty was a relatively easy task for the new autocrat, although
these struggles occupied the greater part of his reign. A much more
difficult question, however, faced him: How was the empire to be
governed? Kao Tsu's old friends and fellow-countrymen, who had helped
him into power, had been rewarded by appointment as generals or high
officials. Gradually he got rid of those who had been his best comrades,
as so many upstart rulers have done before and after him in every
country in the world. An emperor does not like to be reminded of a very
humble past, and he is liable also to fear the rivalry of men who
formerly were his equals. It is evident that little attention was paid
to theories of administration; policy was determined mainly by practical
considerations. Kao Tsu allowed many laws and regulations to remain in
force, including the prohibition of Confucianist writings. On the other
hand, he reverted to the allocation of fiefs, though not to old noble
families but to his relatives and some of his closest adherents,
generally men of inferior social standing. Thus a mixed administration
came into being: part of the empire was governed by new feudal princes,
and another part split up into provinces and prefectures and placed
directly under the central power through its officials.

But whence came the officials? Kao Tsu and his supporters, as farmers
from eastern China, looked down upon the trading population to which
farmers always regard themselves as superior. The merchants were ignored
as potential officials although they had often enough held official
appointments under the former dynasty. The second group from which
officials had been drawn under the Ch'in was that of the army officers,
but their military functions had now, of course, fallen to Kao Tsu's
soldiers. The emperor had little faith, however, in the loyalty of
officers, even of his own, and apart from that he would have had first
to create a new administrative organization for them. Accordingly he
turned to another class which had come into existence, the class later
called the _gentry_, which in practice had the power already in its

The term "gentry" has no direct parallel in Chinese texts; the later
terms "shen-shih" and "chin-shen" do not quite cover this concept. The
basic unit of the gentry class are families, not individuals. Such
families often derive their origin from branches of the Chou nobility.
But other gentry families were of different and more recent origin in
respect to land ownership. Some late Chou and Ch'in officials of
non-noble origin had become wealthy and had acquired land; the same was
true for wealthy merchants and finally, some non-noble farmers who were
successful in one or another way, bought additional land reaching the
size of large holdings. All "gentry" families owned substantial estates
in the provinces which they leased to tenants on a kind of contract
basis. The tenants, therefore, cannot be called "serfs" although their
factual position often was not different from the position of serfs. The
rents of these tenants, usually about half the gross produce, are the

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