Open main menu
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

grown strong enough to claim and be granted the title “king,” and they all tried to annihilate their neighbours by ruse in diplomacy and by force of arms, without referring to their common ruler for arbitration, as they were in duty bound. In this bellum omnium contra omnes the state of Ts‛in, in spite of repeated reverses, remained in possession of the field.

The period of this general struggle is spoken of by Chinese historians as that of “The Contending States.” Like that of the “Five Leaders” it is full of romance; and the examples of heroism, cowardice, diplomatic skill and philosophical equanimity which fill the pages of its history have become the subject of elegant literature in prose and poetry. The political development of the Chóu dynasty is the exact counterpart of that of its spiritual life as shown in the contemporaneous literature. The orthodox conservative spirit which reflects the ethical views of the emperor and his royal partisans is represented by the name Confucius (551–479 B.C.). The great sage had collected old traditions and formulated the moral principles which had been dormant in the Chinese nation for centuries. His doctrines tended to support the maintenance of central power; so did those of other members of his school, especially Mencius. Filial love showed itself as obedience to the parents in the family and as loyalty to the emperor and his government in public life. It was the highest virtue, according to the Confucian school. The history of the nation as taught in the Shu-king was in its early part merely an illustration of Confucianist ideas about good and bad government. The perpetual advice to rulers was: “Be like Yau, Shun and Yü, and you will be right.” Confucianism was dominant during the earlier centuries of the Chóu dynasty, whose lucky star began to wane when doctrines opposed to it got the upper hand. The philosophical schools built up on the doctrines of Lau-tzï had in the course of generations become antagonistic, and found favour with those who did not endorse that loyalty to the emperor demanded by Mencius; so had other thinkers, some of whom had preached morals which were bound to break up all social relations, like the philosopher of egotism, Yang Chu, according to Mencius disloyalty personified and the very reverse of his ideal, the duke of Chóu. The egotism recommended by Yang Chu to the individual had begun to be practised on a large scale by the contending states, their governments and sovereigns, some of whom had long discarded Confucian rites under the influence of Tatar neighbours. It appears that the anti-Confucian spirit which paved the way towards the final extinction of Wu-wang’s dynasty received its chief nourishment from the Tatar element in the population of the northern and western boundary states. Among these Ts‛in was the most prominent. Having placed itself in the possession of the territories of nearly all of the remaining states, Ts‛in made war against the last shadow emperor, Nan-wang who had attempted to form an alliance against the powerful usurper, with the result that the western part of the Chóu dominion was lost to the aggressor.

Nan-wang died soon after (256 B.C.), and a relative whom he had appointed regent was captured in 249 B.C., when the king of Ts‛in put an end to this last remnant of the once glorious Chóu dynasty by annexing its territory. The king had already secured the possession of the Nine Tripods, huge bronze vases said to have been cast by the emperor Yü as representing the nine divisions of his empire and since preseryed in the treasuries of all the various emperors as a symbol of Imperial power. With the loss of these tripods Nan-wang had forfeited the right to call himself “Son of Heaven.” Another prerogative was the offering of sacrifice to Shang-ti, the Supreme Ruler, or God, with whom only the emperor was supposed to communicate. The king of Ts‛in had performed the ceremony as early as 253 B.C. (F. H.*) 

(C)—From the Ts‛in Dynasty to 1875.

After the fall of the Chóu dynasty a kind of interregnum followed during which China was practically without an emperor. This was the time when the state of Ts‛in asserted itself as the leader and finally as the master of all the Ts‛in dynasty 249–210 B.C. contending states. Its king, Chau-siang, who died in 251 B.C., though virtually emperor, abstained from adopting the imperial title. He was succeeded by his son, Hiao-wên Wang, who died after a three days’ reign. Chwan-siang Wang, his son and successor, was a man of no mark. He died in 246 B.C. giving place to Shi Hwang-ti, “the first universal emperor.” This sovereign was then only thirteen, but he speedily made his influence felt everywhere. He chose Hien-yang, the modern Si-gan Fu, as his capital, and built there a Shi Hwang-ti. magnificent palace, which was the wonder and admiration of his contemporaries. He abolished the feudal system, and divided the country into provinces over whom he set officers directly responsible to himself. He constructed roads through the empire, he formed canals, and erected numerous and handsome public buildings.

Having settled the internal affairs of his kingdom, he turned his attention to the enemies beyond his frontier. Chief among these were the Hiung-nu Tatars, whose attacks had for years disquieted the Chinese and neighbouring principalities. Against these foes he marched with an army of 300,000 men, exterminating those in the neighbourhood of China, and driving the rest into Mongolia. On his return from this campaign he was called upon to face a formidable rebellion in Ho-nan, which had been set on foot by the adherents of the feudal princes whom he had dispossessed. Having crushed the rebellion, he marched southwards and subdued the tribes on the south of the Nan-shan ranges, i.e. the inhabitants of the modern provinces of Fu-kien, Kwang-tung and Kwang-si. The limits of his empire were thus as nearly as possible those of modern China proper. One monument remains to bear witness to his energy. Finding that the northern states of Ts‛in, Chao and Yen were building lines of fortification along their northern frontier for protection against the Hiung-nu, he conceived the idea of building one gigantic wall, which was to stretch across the whole northern limit of the huge empire from the sea to the farthest western corner of the modern province of Kan-suh. This work was begun under his immediate supervision in 214 B.C. His reforming zeal made him unpopular with the upper classes. Schoolmen and pedants held up to the admiration of the people the heroes of the feudal times and the advantages of the system they administered. Seeing in this propaganda danger to the state Shi Hwang-ti determined to break once and for all with the past. To this end he ordered the destruction of all books having reference to the past history of the empire, and many scholars were put to death for failing in obedience to it. (See infra § Chinese Literature, §§ History.) The measure was unpopular and on his death (210 B.C.) rebellion broke out. His son and successor Erh-shi, a weak and debauched youth, was murdered after having offered a feeble resistance to his enemies. His son Tsze-yung surrendered to Liu Pang, the prince of Han, one of the two generals who were the leaders of the rebellion. He afterwards fell into the hands of Hiang Yu, the other chieftain, who put him and his family and associates to death. Hiang Yu aspiring to imperial honours, war broke out between him and Liu Pang. After five years’ conflict Hiang Yu was killed in a decisive battle before Wu-kiang. Liu Pang was then proclaimed emperor (206 B.C.) under the title of Kao-ti, and the new line was styled the Han dynasty.

Kao-ti established his capital at Lo-yang in Ho-nan, and afterwards removed it to Chang-an in Shen-si. Having founded his right to rebel on the oppressive nature of the laws promulgated by Shi Hwang-ti, he abolished the Han
206 B.C.
ordinances of Ts‛in, except that referring to the destruction of the books—for, like his great predecessor, he dreaded the influence exercised by the literati—and he exchanged the worship of the gods of the soil of Ts‛in for that of those of Han, his native state. His successor Hwei-ti (194–179 B.C.), however, gave every encouragement to literature, and appointed a commission to restore as far as possible the texts which had been destroyed by Shi Hwang-ti. In this the commission was very successful. It was discovered that in many cases the law had been evaded, while in numerous instances scholars were found to write down from memory the text of books of which all copies had been destroyed, though in some cases the purity of the text is doubtful and in other cases there were undoubted forgeries. A period of repose was now enjoyed by the empire. There was peace within its borders, and its frontiers remained unchallenged, except by the Hiung-nu, who suffered many severe defeats. Thwarted in their attacks on China, these marauders attacked the kingdom of the Yueh-chi, which had grown up in the western extremity of Kan-suh, and after much fighting drove their victims along the T‛ien-shan-nan-lu to the territory between Turkestan and the Caspian Sea. This position of affairs suggested to the emperor the idea of forming an offensive and defensive alliance with the Yueh-chi against the Hiung-nu. With this object the general Chang K‛ien was sent as an ambassador to western Tatary. After having been twice imprisoned by the Hiung-nu he returned to China. Chang K‛ien had actually reached the court of the Yueh-chi, or Indo-Scythians as they were called owing to their having become masters of India later on, and paid a visit to the kingdom of Bactria, recently conquered by the Yueh-chi. His report on the several kingdoms of western Asia opened up a new world to the Chinese, and numerous elements of culture, plants and animals were then imported for the first time from the west into China. While in Bactria Chan K‛ien’s attention was first drawn to the existence of India, and attempts to send expeditions,