To understand the nature of China today, one must explore the nature of the past. In deed, one must go back about 5,000 years ago (timeline) to the Yin or Shang Dynasty to begin to understand how Chinese culture and Chinese politics operate. China is an ancient culture in terms of traditions and philosophies that guide it. You must understand the nature of China in terms of how it historically developed to understand it today. You must also understand that China is a land of paradoxes that often seem to conflict. It is a place with great richness in terms of history and tradition that are hard for people from the outside to fully comprehend. The Chinese character for king blends with that of jade. The characters that represent the seal of the king include the character for jade. The other character means that the gods gave you jade as a symbol that you have the right to govern. For Confucius, a person should follow their jade spirit and for Chinese jade is hard but never hurts people. The relationships of one thing to another, therefore, become important to how the Chinese view the world.
In China, the basis of T'IEN or "HEAVEN" is traced early times and forms the basis for thought and philosophy in terms of how rulers ruled then and even today. The Chinese believed that there was a mandate from Heaven that guided social and political authority. It is equally important to recognize that China was plunged into a chaotic period where no central authority was manifest. This period of time had a profound impact on China and the philosophy that was to become tradition for Chinese people for the next two millennium arose during this period known as the Warring States Period.
The Shaping of Chinese Culture
The Neolithic - Banpo: Explore
Following the Shang-Yin came a period known as the Eastern Zhou. The Zhou took power from the Shang-Yin by using for the first time the Mandate from Heaven. The kings had become corrupt and unable to exhort influence and in this sense had lost the right to rule. This was a period of relative disunity, but it was a period of dynamic growth and tremendous creativity. In many ways the Eastern Zhou was the most exciting and romantic phase of Chinese History without central authority but with multiplicity of rival states. In the 8th century B.C. China was still technologically behind west Asia, but by the end of the period, it had largely caught up in every respect and was the most populous land on earth. The seven largest states of China together might have had in the neighborhood of 20 million people quite comparable to the whole of West Asia and the Mediterranean areas. Iron, which had appeared early in the west, became common in China by 5th century B.C. Iron replaced bronze for weapons and farming tools. The result was that ox- drawn plow brought an agricultural revolution to China . Much of the uncultivated land in North China were brought under the plow,, and more barbarian people in the remaining areas of North China and its vicinities were absorbed into the dominant culture. Grain yields were also greatly expanded by large scale irrigation and other water control projects. And great efforts were devoted to the construction of transport canals indicating the growth of the economic unit and the rising needs to move large quantities of tax-grains and other commodities over long distances.
The growth of production was accompanied by rapid development of trade and a tremendous increase of wealth. As media for exchange in trade copper coinage became prevalent at this time. Before the end of Zhou, copper cash, a small round coin with a square hole at the center for stringing purpose, had come into use, and it remained the standard Chinese coin until in the late 19th century. The late Chou also saw the appearance of other characteristic features of Chinese civilization such as chopsticks and lacquer.
During the Eastern Zhou, the barbarian people who lived around the heartland of China became gradually incorporated into the Chinese cultural area. This was the start of the great process of acculturation by which the originally non-Chinese peoples of the Yangtse Valley and Southern China were gradually drawn into the main stream of Chinese civilization except for a few unassimilated remnants in extreme remote areas.
There is good reason to believe that between the second millennium and the 7th century B.C. land in North China was gradually brought under cultivation and populated. Little by little, the forests receded before the patches of burned land and faunas which abounded under the Shang Dynasty which took hunting as extremely important activities, became more and more rare. Stock raising also declined . The function of the noble class likewise changed gradually,, its members began to take an interest in agriculture which consequently grew in importance.
As the result of these changes, the center of Chinese civilization, the city-palaces and their immediate suburbs in the middle Yellow River Valley became more and more scattered; reaching as far south as the Yangtse River Valley. The Chinese world had become so large that the Zhou Kings could not make their authority adequately felt. Several autonomous principalities formed in the border areas and began to try to enlarge their territories and even claim hegemony. The total population played a big part in forming of these principalities, each new state grew aware of its own individuality, endangering the unity of the Chinese world. These large principalities assumed power in turn during the 7th and 6th centuries B.C. Qi in Shangdong, Qin in Shaanxi and Chu in the South, whose territories reached the Yangtse River Valley. The war between them resulted in the creation of the first inter-state structure )the tax form, the publication of Penal Laws and the organization of relations between the states. (subtle diplomacy, defense alliances, oaths to promote solidarity ) while at the same time the peasants' conditions deteriorated.
From the 5th to 3rd century B.C. the Chinese economy and society both underwent profound changes which were of great significance in Chinese history. The invention of the technique of casting iron and the traction plow were the most noticeable inventions at the time. With the rapid expansion of agricultural production, population growth continued with ever greater competition for land beginning to emerge.
The principalities became large states depending on agriculture mainly, large scale collective irrigation work began in Wei Valley in Shaanxi, in Jiangsu and Sichuan. Various reformatory measures were carried out, aimed at destroying the remains of the old nobility and organizing a central power. The peasants were divided into groups of 5 to 6 families, the principle of collective responsibility was introduced; taxes and loans were created; sections of the population were transferred to uninhabited areas.The war of conquest continued, prolonging those already under way in the eve of the hegemony. Hence, the name of the period, ' the Warring States" was given.
With social and technical developments, the scale and technique of war developed further, characterized in the following aspects:
Central to Chinese Culture is Confucius Philosophy. Out of the chaos was to come a profound figure in Chinese philosophy. He was: K'UNG FU-TZU (Confucius).
To Confucius, there were several basic concepts that emerged as central to a philosophy of life. These were:
Lesson on Confucius.
Lesson on Taoism
Lesson on the Art of War and the 36 Strategies
The progression of ideology regarding formal authority in China was staged. The foundations were laid in the early Shang period. Confucius and his cohort Mencius formed the philosophical basis for humanity and authority for leadership that aimed toward benevolence. One further stage was to take place that eventually would lead to a reformulation of all of the prior evolution of social thought in what was to become the Han Synthesis.
This stage was to witness the first single unified China. The rule of Qin was to unify China for the first time around 221 B.C. Qin rule was authoritarian and total. The Qin rule was legitimized by a school of thought known as Legalism. In effect, the Qin government was totalitarian. The Qin empire was short-lived however. This totalitarian basis of government was to be reorganized by the Han Dynasty that eventually emerged to reunify China around 200 B.C. The Han government was based on a foundation that was derived from earlier principles. The following outlines this reformulation that continues to guide the underlaying basis of government in China even today.
In the face of the fading Chou authority and growing ferocity of warfare, the states of the Eastern Chou period made many efforts to minimize fighting and stabilize the political situation. Bilateral and multi-lateral inter-state conference were held very frequently. Disarmament proposals were discussed and treaties were signed. Alliances were formed. Marriages between princely lines were also an important means of strengthening alliances. Hostages were widely used to ensure the loyalty of satellite states.
At the time during the 6th century B.C., some stability was achieved! through a formalized balance of power between Qin in the north and west, Chu in the south, Qi and Wu in the east. But in 473 B.C. Wu was crushed and annexed by Yueh, the most barbarian state of all the states at that time.
Since then there were no further attempts to organize an inter-state order in ancient China. Brute conquests had become the political order of the day. The contenders for supremacy were Qi in the east, (Qin in the west and Chu in the south. Chu exterminated Yueh in 344 B.C. and the small central state of Lu in 249 B.C.; Qi annexed the central state of Sung in 286 B.C. While Qin exterminated the Chou Dynasty itself in 256 B.C.)
Finally in a series of great campaigns between 230B.C. to 221 B.C. Qin taking the legalists as the source of its inspiration conquered all the remaining states, unifying China for the first time and opening, a new stage in its history by founding the Qin Empire in 211 B.C.
The price of Qin was the promoter of an idea of a unified empire with an emperor. This idea and its realization made him known in the Chinese history for more than 2,000 years until today. The prince who was later to be known as Qin Shi Huang (the first Emperor of Qin) carried out his plan in 3 stages: 1) He took over the power of Qin in 238 B.C. and prepared his victories through cunning and diplomacy. 2) From 230-221 BC., he crushed his rivals ([Han, Zhao, Wei, Yen Chu, and Qi) one by one, and pushed out the borders of the Chinese world in several masterly campaigns, driving eastward as far as the pass of Shan Hai Guan, northwards as the steppe land where the Huns roamed and southwards as far as the South China Sea to the Guangdong Province. 3) From 221 until his death in 210, he organized his conquests: 36 commanderies were created; a network of roads was formed radiating from Xian Yang, the capital, in the shape of star; weights and measures; coinage and the script were standardized; the fortifications separating the states were destroyed; but the Great Wall was built (existing segments were linked into one great defensive wall that can be seen from outer space today) along the northern frontier to protect the new Empire from the nomad invasions; private weapons were confiscated, the classics which " discredited the present in favor of the past" were destroyed and the followers of Confucius were persecuted; the system of groups of families was strengthened.
The measures taken by Qin Shi Huang Di were too severe. The population of the eastern region, used to more refined civilization, found the restraint forced on them by these harsh laws hard to bear; and the huge work projects: the Great well, the Imperial Palace, "A Fang Gong" near now Xi-an and the Emperor' s Tomb exhausted the manpower and drained the treasury. An uprising broke out only one year after the death of the first Emperor in 210 B.C. The invincible empire collapsed, demonstrating the validity of one of Mencius' ideas - "the government ultimately depends upon the tacit consent of the governed."
The first emperor thus failed completely in founding a lasting dynasty, but the system of a unified country he created was to continue, though with occasional breaks, for more than two thousands years, proving to be the world's most durable political system. He has been excoriated as a tyrant through out most of Chinese history, but Chinese today consider him the founder of China as a unified country. The name Qin is quite fittingly the origin of the Western name for China.
Legacy of China
Following the collapse of the Qin world, a new dynasty was begun. This was the Han. For the Han there was a new concept of government that emerged - or may we say re-emerged. For it was based on earlier principles set down by the Shang and Confucian eras. The main parts to this new dictate of government are as follows:
China was to continue to be influenced by internal and external forces. Yet it remained a civilization that was marked by the emergence of the Han synthesis. This was to be the guiding force of political ideology that continues until today.
Keep the following statements in mind as you think about Chinese government and authority.