tribes, or Huns, on the northern and western boundaries. To fight them, to make pacts and compromises with them, and to befriend them with gifts so as to keep them out of the Imperial territories, had been the rôle of a palatinate on the western frontier, the duchy of Chóu, while the court of China with its vicious emperor gave itself up to effeminate luxury. Chóu-sin’s evil practices had aroused the indignation of the palatine, subsequently known as Wön-wang, who in vain remonstrated with the emperor’s criminal treatment of his subjects. The strength and integrity of Wön-wang’s character had made him the corner-stone of that important epoch; and his name is one of the best known both in history and in literature. The courage with which he spoke his mind in rebuking his unworthy liege lord caused the emperor to imprison him, his great popularity alone saving his life. During his incarceration, extending over three years, he compiled the I-king, or “Canon of Changes,” supposed to be the oldest book of Chinese literature, and certainly the one most extensively studied by the nation. Wön-wang’s son, known as Wu-wang, was destined to avenge his father and the many victims of Chóu-sin’s cruelty. Under his leadership the people rose against the emperor and, with the assistance of his allies, “men of the west,” possibly ancestors of the Huns, overthrew the Shang dynasty after a decisive battle, whereupon Chóu-sin committed suicide by setting fire to his palace.
Chóu Dynasty.—Wu-wang, the first emperor of the new dynasty, named after his duchy of Chóu on the western frontier, was greatly assisted in consolidating the empire by his brother, Chóu-kung, i.e. “Duke of Chóu.” As the loyal prime-minister of Wu-wang and his successor the duke of Chóu laid the foundation of the government institutions of the dynasty, which became the prototype of most of the characteristic features in Chinese public and social life down to recent times. The brothers and adherents of the new sovereign were rewarded with fiefs which in the sequel grew into as many states. China thus developed into a confederation, resembling that of the German empire, inasmuch as a number of independent states, each having its own sovereign, were united under one liege lord, the emperor, styled “The Son of Heaven,” who as high priest of the nation reigned in the name of Heaven. The emperor represented the nation in sacrificing and praying to God. His relations with his vassals and government officials, and those of the heads of the vassal states with their subjects as well as of the people among themselves were regulated by the most rigid ceremonial. The dress to be worn, the speeches to be made, and the postures to be assumed on all possible occasions, whether at court or in private life, were subject to regulations. The duke of Chóu, or whoever may have been the creator of this system, showed deep wisdom in his speculations, if he based that immutability of government which in the sequel became a Chinese characteristic, on the physical and moral immutability of individuals by depriving them of all spontaneous action in public and private life. Originally and nominally the emperor’s power as the ruler over his vassals, who again ruled in his name, was unquestionable; and the first few generations of the dynasty saw no decline of the original strength of central power. A certain loyalty based on the traditional ancestral worship counteracted the desire to revolt. The rightful heir to the throne was responsible to his ancestors as his subjects were to theirs. “We have to do as our ancestors did,” the people argued; “and since they obeyed the ancestors of our present sovereign, we have to be loyal to him.” Interference with this time-honoured belief would have amounted to a rupture, as it were, in the nation’s religious relations, and as long as the people looked upon the emperor as the Son of Heaven, his moral power would outweigh strong armies sent against him in rebellion. The time came soon enough when central power depended merely on this spontaneous loyalty.
Not all the successors of Wu-wang profited by the lessons given them by past history. Incapacity, excessive severity and undue weakness had created discontent and loosened the relations between the emperor and his vassals. Increase in the extent of the empire greatly added to this decline of central power. For the emperor’s own dominion was centrally situated and surrounded by the several confederate states; its geographical position prevented it from participating in the general aggrandisement of China, and increase in territory, population and prestige had become the privilege of boundary states. Tatar tribes in the north and west and the aboriginal Man barbarians in the south were forced by warfare to yield land, or enticed to exchange it for goods, or induced to mingle with their Chinese neighbours, thus producing a mixed population combining the superior intelligence of the Chinese race with the energetic and warlike spirit of barbarians. These may be the main reasons which gradually undermined the Imperial authority and brought some of the confederate states to the front, so as to overshadow the authority of the Son of Heaven himself, whose military and financial resources were inferior to those of several of his vassals. A few out of the thirty-five sovereigns of the Chóu dynasty were distinguished by extraordinary qualities. Mu-wang of the 10th century performed journeys far beyond the western frontier of his empire, and was successful in warfare against the Dog Barbarians, described as the ancestors of the Hiung-nu, or Huns. The reign of Süan-wang (827-782 B.C.) was filled with warfare against the Tangutans and the Huns, called Hién-yün in a contemporaneous poem of the “Book of Odes”; but the most noteworthy reign in this century is that of the lascivious Yu-wang, the oppressiveness of whose government had caused a bard represented in the “Book of Odes” to complain about the emperor’s evil ways. The writer of this poem refers to certain signs showing that Heaven itself is indignant at Yu-wang’s crimes. One of these signs was an eclipse of the sun which had recently occurred, the date and month being clearly stated. This date corresponds exactly with August 29, 776 B.C.; and astronomers have calculated that on that precise date an eclipse of the sun was visible in North China. This, of course, cannot be a mere accident; and since the date falls into the sixth year of Yu-wang’s reign, the coincidence is bound to increase our confidence in that part of Chinese history. Our knowledge of it, however, is due to mere chance; for the record of the eclipse would probably not have been preserved until our days had it not been interpreted as a kind of tekel upharsin owing to the peculiarity of the political situation. It does not follow, therefore, as some foreign critics assume, that the historical period begins as late as Yu-wang’s reign. China has no architectural witnesses to testify to her antiquity as Egypt has in her pyramids and temple ruins; but the sacrificial bronze vessels of the Shang and Chóu dynasties, with their characteristic ornaments and hieroglyphic inscriptions, seem to support the historical tradition inasmuch as natural development may be traced by the analysis of their artistic and paleographic phases. Counterfeiters, say a thousand years later, could not have resisted the temptation to introduce patterns and hieroglyphic shapes of later periods; and whatever bronzes have been assigned to the Shang dynasty, i.e. some time in the second millennium B.C., exhibit the Shang characteristics. The words occurring in their inscriptions, carefully collected, may be shown to be confined to ideas peculiar to primitive states of cultural life, not one of them pointing to an invention we may suspect to be of later origin. But, apart from this, it seems a matter of individual judgment how far back beyond that indisputable year 776 B.C. a student will date the beginning of real history.
In the 7th century central authority had declined to such an extent that the emperor was merely the nominal head of the confederation, the hegemony in the empire falling in turn to one of the five principal states, for which reason the Chinese speak of a period of the “Five Leaders.” The state of Ts‘i, corresponding to North Shan-tung, had begun to overshadow the other states by unprecedented success in economic enterprise, due to the prudent advice of its prime minister, the philosopher Kuan-tzï. Other states attained leadership by success in warfare. Among these leaders we see duke Mu of T‘sin (659 B.C.), a state on the western boundary which was so much influenced by amalgamation with its Hunnic neighbours that the purely Chinese states regarded it as a barbarian country. The emperor was in those days a mere shadow; several of his vassals had