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Wang Mang, nephew of the empress dowager Wang and championing Confucian principles, consolidated his power in the reign of the boy Ping Di by marrying his daughter to the emperor. His treatment of the Wei queen mother made Wang Mang's son Wang Yu afraid of a feud between the Wei and Wang clans, and he tried to use portents to influence his father's policy. So in 3 CE Wang Mang had his son, the Wei clan, and hundreds of others executed. Han propaganda also blamed Wang Mang for the death of 14-year-old Emperor Ping three years later. Three consecutive emperors had died without leaving a direct heir, a bad omen that confirmed prophecies the dynasty would end. From many candidates Wang Mang chose a two-year-old so that he could rule as regent.
In 9 CE Wang Mang took the throne, proclaiming the Xin (New) dynasty. A Han uprising was put down, and in 10 CE Han nobles were demoted to commoners, as a mutiny in Central Asia was crushed. Wang Mang broke up the great estates and prohibited the private buying and selling of slaves. Reducing the titles of kings to marquises was only symbolic, but it irritated border leaders and led to revolts. Wang Mang nationalized liquor, salt, iron implements, cash, and the resources of mountains and marshes (hunting, fishing, mining, etc.). As a devoted Confucian he did not call them monopolies but "controls." Government stores were set up in five major cities to stabilize the changing prices of essentials such as grain, hemp cloth, and silk. Loans were made to help peasant farmers. However, his debasing the currency with copper coins while he collected five million ounces of gold caused economic chaos. The government's currency frauds led to widespread counterfeiting; but prohibiting copper and charcoal could not be enforced and had to be repealed, though many were convicted of using the old currency. According to historian Ban Gu, Wang Mang kept his lamp burning all night trying to handle too much himself; but legal cases backed up, and corrupt bureaucrats took advantage.
Confucian philosopher Yang Xiong (53 BC-18 CE) took the moderate position that human nature is a mixture of good and evil. Whoever cultivates the good will become good, and whoever cultivates the evil will become evil. The way of the sage is one with heaven (nature). Without people heaven could not realize itself as a cause; without heaven, people could not complete themselves. Huan Tan (43 BC-28 CE) considered Yang Xiong a sage and noted human differences related to intelligence, intuition, and character. Huan Tan criticized Confucian scholars for being impractical, noting that in the reign of Wu Di (141-87 BC) Confucian scholarship had greatly increased, but government policies got worse. Although it was fine to exalt the learned in times of peace, he believed in difficult times men in armor should be honored. His advocacy of strong government indicated the Legalist tendency of the time.
The Yellow River broke its dikes and changed course. Famines in border areas occurred in 11 and 14 CE, causing cannibalism. Wang Mang reduced official salaries according to the suffering of the region, but this increased corruption and bribery. He tried to raise funds by taxing the higher class for the slaves they still owned. Important provincial offices were now hereditary. Rebellious peasants in Shandong were led by Mother Lu in 17 CE. Rebels calling themselves the Red Eyebrows were activated by a five-year drought that began the next year. These peasant rebellions combined eventually with Han nobles and large landowners and led to the demise of this new dynasty. In 19 CE Wang Mang twice took one-thirtieth of everyone's property in tax, and impressive buildings were constructed in Chang'an the next year.
A plot to raise troops against him in Yan and Chao was discovered, and Wang Mang had several thousand prominent persons executed. Hundreds of thousands of counterfeiters were arrested, two-thirds of them dying when they were made government slaves. Bandits robbing out of poverty grew to gangs of hundreds and thousands, while officials were not permitted to mobilize troops without the Emperor's permission. Bandits disbanding after amnesty were attacked and fled. Frontier defense crumbled as border states asserted their independence. By 22 CE the Red Eyebrows defeated the imperial army in Liang, and famine reached the capital at Chang'an. Campaigns against the Xiongnu had depleted the treasury except for the gold Wang Mang hoarded, and the economic policies were repealed. A Han army was organized and took over the lower Yangzi region and most of Nanyang. Wang Mang's army attacked Han troops in Yingchuan but was defeated. Han armies marched on Chang'an; as the convict army fled, they sacked the capital, killing Wang Mang in 23 CE. After two years under Emperor Geng Shi, the Red Eyebrows captured Chang'an. Historian Ban Gu estimated that the population of the Chinese empire had been reduced by half.
A Han descendant named Liu Xiu, who owned a huge domain near Nanyang, in 25 CE founded the Later Han dynasty, also known as the Eastern Han because he moved the capital to Luoyang in the east from Chang'an in the Wei valley, where the irrigation system had been destroyed. As Guang Wu Di he represented Henan and other landowners and ruled for 32 years by suppressing the Red Eyebrows and other rebels, freeing those who had fallen into slavery during the revolutionary era, and re-instituting a strong central administration. With fewer great landowners and a smaller imperial clan and ruling class, tax returns enabled the Chinese empire to recover gradually and prosper. Under General Ma Yuan they reconquered the south and northern Vietnam in 43 CE. Whereas the Former Han dynasty had only three uprisings in the southwest during two centuries, in the next two centuries Yue people in the south revolted 53 times, as the Chinese migrated there.
During the reigns of Ming Di (57-75) and Zhang Di (75-88) China reconquered Central Asia and the northern nomads. In 65 CE Ming Di pardoned for subversion his brother, the king of Chu, because he had recited the subtle words of Lao-zi and honored the humane cult of the Buddha. It was also said that after a dream Ming Di sent a mission to the west, and two Indian monks brought back Buddhist scriptures. Yet more than half of 500 officials imprisoned were killed by flogging. In 73 a Chinese army led by Dou Gu defeated the Xiongnu, and the historian Ban Gu's brother Ban Chao had shamans murdered to prevent them from helping the enemy. In 89 after they had 13,000 killed, 81 Xiongnu tribes totaling 200,000 people surrendered to the Han army. Ban Chao was appointed protector-general of the Western Regions in 91 and kept order there until his death in 102. More than fifty states sent hostages to Luoyang with tribute in 94 CE; as hostages sons of prominent barbarian leaders could be educated in Chinese culture. The Chinese emperor sent gold and silk, and the Xiongnu tribute included jade, horses, and wine. In 110 a large Qiang revolt in Liangzhou caused Han forces to withdraw from that area. After twenty years military service Ban Chao's son Ban Yung gained control over the Turfan depression and got the Kucha, Khotan, and Yarkand to submit in 127. Han garrisons occupied the Gansu corridor until the middle of the 2nd century when Han power began to decline.
At the beginning of the first century a hundred men a year entered government by passing civil service examinations. A great conference of Confucian scholars was held in 79 CE to discuss interpretation of the Confucian classics. Wang Chong (27-c. 97) believing in a natural order was not afraid to criticize Confucius, Mencius, and other philosophers. From a poor family and having to read books in a bookstore, he condemned the superstitions involved in omens and portents, suggesting natural explanations for natural phenomena. He wrote that saying human nature is neither good nor evil is like saying a person's capacity is neither high nor low. In 83 Wang Chong summarized in Balanced Discussion (Lunheng) previous Confucian philosophers' views on good and evil in human nature and concluded that Mencius described those above average as good, Xun-zi those below average as evil, and Yang Xiong the average as a mixture.
Wang Chong ridiculed ideas of life after death and the fear of spirits as unscientific, though his ideas had little influence on Chinese culture until recently. He summarized his teaching as hating falsehood and wrote, "In things there is nothing more manifest than having results, and in argument there is nothing more decisive than having evidence."1 Wang Chong did not blame Confucians for political failures if their character was cultivated and their moral standards were high. He believed that misfortune is often the result of fate rather than a divine punishment for moral wrong.
Able-bodied men could be drafted into the army at age 23 for one year of training and a year of garrison duty before being assigned to a local militia for service when needed until the age of 56. So much silk was exported by Han China that Rome noticed a drain on their gold and silver to the east, though the Han government tried to prevent the smuggling of iron and weapons. Chinese iron work was so sophisticated they could produce some steel. The shoulder collar for draft animals was used very efficiently as was the wheelbarrow. Porcelain is called china because it was invented and propagated by the Chinese at this time; it was more sanitary and useful than wood. The great literary culture of China led to the important invention of paper in 105 CE.
Han land taxes were usually only one-thirtieth of the yield, but rent was about half. In the Earlier Han era there had been nearly 60 million taxpayers; in 57 CE only 21 million paid taxes, but by 105 it was back up to 53 million. Although the bureaucracy was supposed to be based on merit, officials usually achieved their positions by family and the patronage of influential landowners. The burden of taxes on northern peasants caused some to flee to the less-taxed south and others to rob or revolt. Once again powerful families were weakening the financial system. As powerful relatives of empresses, during the reign of Ho Di (88-106) the land-owning family of Dou Xian became dominant at court; but he was killed. An Di (r. 106-125) allowed a eunuch's adopted son to inherit a fief, and nineteen eunuchs were made marquises when they helped Shun Di (r. 126-44) to the throne by liquidating the Yan faction. In 133 Zuo Xiong's complaint ended the flogging of high officials begun in Ming Di's reign, and the same year astrologer Zhang Heng, the first to use a seismograph, after an earthquake criticized the corruption of the eunuch-dominated court. After 135 CE eunuchs were able to pass on their wealth and power to adopted sons.
Earthquakes also stimulated criticism during the reign of Huan Di (146-68). In 146 the number of students in the imperial academy was increased to 30,000. A royal Parthian named An Shigao gave up his throne to become a Buddhist; he spent twenty years at Chang'an translating texts and propagating the religion. Liang Ji was executed and his family wiped out in 159 by five court eunuchs, who were ennobled and given huge fiefs of 76,000 families each; the sale of the Liang estate was equal to half the grain taxes for a year. Cui Shi (d. 170) worked on the annals in the Dongguan library but was dismissed because he was a client of Liang Ji. Cui Shi found regional officials disobeying imperial edicts and changing orders, but he also criticized drastic administrative measures as cruel, oppressive, and fault-finding. Nonetheless his Treatise on Politics in 151 was more Legalist than Daoist in urging stricter laws regardless of privileges. Daoist Zhu Mu (100-163) observed that violating natural virtue leads to honoring humanity (ren) and justice (i); but when propriety (li) and law (fa) are upheld, human innocence is lost. He suggested this social degeneration to Confucian and Legalist methods could be reversed by individuals cultivating depth of feeling for other people and being more liberal and generous and less fault-finding.
Wang Fu (c. 90-165) failed in his official career because he could not compromise his integrity; so he retired and commented on political and commercial corruption in his Remarks of a Hermit. Believing that evil conditions are created by people, he suggested they could be corrected by rational and effective human effort, although what has accumulated over generations can not be remedied by short-term measures. In his evil time he felt that individuals needed tremendous effort to resist temptations and pressures. Those in government must not be biased, narrow-minded, self-willed, nor self-interested as a private person might be, but must act with social intelligence to uphold public laws. Preservation of the state, which is responsible for order, depends on the enlightened choice of officials. To attain the great peace (taiping) the fundamentals of agriculture and essential goods should be emphasized instead of the secondary luxuries and refinements. He complained that increased concentration of wealth decreased public revenues and caused poverty.
A cult of the Buddha associated with Lao-zi was formally introduced at the Luoyang court in 166. The same year attempts by Confucian officials to stop the corruption led to hundreds of them being arrested, as one memorandum advised a reduction of the palace women, who numbered more than five thousand plus attendants. During the reign of Ling Di (168-89) more eunuchs were ennobled, and thousands of officials barred from office formed a league of literati and were killed by the great proscription. In 175 it was decreed that all palace directors of departments would be eunuchs; within three years all high offices were sold for cash.
In the propitious year 184 two great rebellions led by Daoist faith healers erupted in the east and in Sichuan. In the east 360,000 armed followers of Zhang Jue's "great peace" that promised equality and common ownership wore yellow turbans to represent the earth in their struggle against the red fire of Han rule. They joined in feasts and fasts lasting several days during which they confessed their sins and used amulets to ward off disease they believed was caused by sin, as floods in the Yellow River valley had led to epidemics. Zhang Jue and his two brothers were killed along with half a million people that year, but the Yellow Turban rebellion went on to devastate eight provinces in the next six years. The Sichuan rebels were called the Five Bushels of Rice band for the dues they paid to master magician Zhang Daoling and others. They also identified disease with sin, used amulets, practiced confession, and abolished private property; but one of their leaders, Zhang Lu, finally came over to the side of Cao Cao in 215.
As the tax-paying peasantry declined, so did the imperial army that drafted them. Professional armies soon came under the control of their commanders, who were usually rich landowners that became local warlords as they fought the rebels. In 188 the imperial court tried to appoint commissioners called shepherds stationed in rebellious areas with absolute authority over all local officials. The next year general Yuan Shao of the Henan family gained control of Luoyang and massacred more than two thousand court eunuchs. General Dong Zhuo with support from the Qiang made Xian Di the last Han emperor, and the next year his army sacked and burned the capital, destroying the imperial library. Dong Zhuo moved the capital back to Chang'an; but notorious for cruelty, he was assassinated in 192.
That year Cao Cao of a eunuch family incorporated 300,000 Yellow Turbans into his army, enabling him eventually to gain control of the north by eliminating Yuan Shao's cousin Yuan Shu, who had founded a kingdom in 197. The Qiang maintained an independent kingdom in Liangzhou for thirty years until they were conquered by Cao Cao's forces in 214. To explain why Cao Cao overcame Yuan Shao a document described ten character faults of the latter while crediting Cao Cao with having the way, justice, order, judgment, strategy, virtue, humanity, and administrative and military skill. Yet a contemporary physiognomist described Cao Cao as "a vile bandit in times of peace, a heroic leader in a world of turmoil."2 While campaigning against Zhang Lu in 215 Cao Cao composed Daoist poetry. Cao Cao was advised by the "mad" Daoist Zhongchang Tong, who observed huge domains with thousands of slaves and recommended ending the aristocracy with land reform and strong laws. Instead Cao Cao put abandoned land under state control and divided it among his veterans and dispossessed peasants in military colonies that would give the new Wei kingdom a tax base as half tenants' crops went to the state, which provided agricultural tools and draft animals.
Power eventually split three ways between Cao Cao in the north, Liu Bei in Sichuan, and Sun Quan in the south, as Cao Cao was defeated by the latter two, who allied together to defend themselves. After Cao Cao died in 220, his son Cao Pei usurped the throne and named his dynasty Wei; the next year Liu Bei, claiming to be of the house of Han, proclaimed the Shu Han dynasty; and in 222 Sun Quan founded the Wu dynasty to begin the Three Kingdoms period. In this era of warfare Wei defeated the Yan king in southern Manchuria and conquered Korea; Shu Han invaded the southwest; and Wu's military power extended into Vietnam. In Wei a system of classifying officials into nine grades was supposed to select the best men; but emphasis on filial piety favored superficial outward behavior, and soon men were being selected primarily for family status, power, wealth, and military distinction.
Generals from dominant families like the Sima gained power in Wei. Yet for a decade during the regency of Cao Shuang and Sima Yi, philosophers Ho Yen and Wang Bi (226-49) gave official advice based on the mysteries of Lao-zi, Zhuang-zi, and the Yi Jing until Sima Yi took control and executed Cao Shuang and Ho Yen in 249. Daoist Wang Bi, who died in a plague, taught that virtue could be attained through non-being. Daoism grew in popularity as outstanding individuals such as the seven sages of the bamboo grove retreated from political life and participated in "purified conversation." One of the seven, Ruan Ji (210-63), refused to accept an official position and once stayed drunk for sixty days in order to avoid a marriage alliance proposed by Sima Zhao. Ruan Ji entitled all his poems "Songs of My Cares," and he protested the Sima clan's usurpation of power. Xi Kang (223-62) believed in transcending moral doctrines of good and evil by harmoniously entering into the feelings of all living creatures. No longer having an ego, he asked why he should feel anxious. The best person makes use of the heart without having attachments. Xi Kang criticized the boredom of official life, the servitude imposed by propriety and morals, and social affectation. He worked as a smith, but he was executed for being impolite to an important minister and for defending a friend unjustly accused of violating filial piety.
Guo Xiang (d. 312) was a high government official who incorporated Xiang Xiu's Commentary on Zhuang-zi into his own. Guo Xiang recommended spontaneity in a changing universe. To imitate sages is to imitate the dead past instead of meeting the living present. Everything is always changing, and institutions and morals are not exceptions; when they do not change, they become artificial and harmful. One should live according to one's own nature, not that of others, so that integrity will be preserved. Transcending distinctions leads to freedom and happiness. The Daoist alchemist Go Hong (253-333) quoted the writing of Bao Jingyen who criticized Confucian literati for assuming that heaven placed rulers over people when it was really the strong oppressing the weak and the cunning tricking the innocent that caused mastery and servitude. Using force against other creatures is not natural but humans' attempts to gain useless adornments. Go Hong complained that the poor were forced to work so that officials could enjoy fat salaries.
Sima Yen succeeded his father as Wei ruler in 251, conquered Shu Han in 263, and two years after that declared himself Wu Di Qin, the Martial Emperor of Qin. Four centuries of Han law were compiled into a new Qin code. Wu Di Qin also annexed the Wu kingdom in 280, briefly reuniting China; but ten years later his death and the Jia family stimulated a civil war called the Revolt of the Eight Kings.
Sixteen kingdoms of five "barbarians" (Xiongnu, Jie, Xian Bei, Qiang, and Di) ruled northern China between 304 and 439. In 304 a Di family founded the Cheng Han kingdom in Sichuan, while the Xiongnu of southern Shansi became the independent kingdom of Zhao, seizing Luoyang in 311 and Chang'an five years later, once again destroying the library. A Buddhist monk from Central Asia named Fotudeng advised Zhao ruler Shi Hu to rule with compassion and avoid killing; though he said the guilty could be executed, killing the innocent would cause calamities. When a minister complained the Buddha was a foreign deity, Shi Hu replied that as he and the people of Zhao were also foreign, Buddha was the very god they should worship.
In the 4th century most of northwestern China converted to Buddhism. Yao Xing (r. 393-415) of the Later Qin patronized Buddhism, sustaining 3,000 monks with his donations. Kumarajiva (350-413), son of a Brahmin father and Kuchean princess, was born at Kucha, followed his mother into a Buddhist order at age seven, studied Buddhism in Kashmir, and was converted to Mahayana in Kashgar. Kumarajiva was kept a prisoner at Wuwei by general Lu Guang of the Earlier Qin kingdom for seventeen years until Later Qin ruler Yao Xing conquered Gansu in 401 and took Kumarajiva to Chang'an, where he directed a team of scholars in making excellent translations of Buddhist scriptures.
While millions of people migrated south into the Yangzi valley, the Eastern Qin established themselves at Jiankang (near current Nanjing) in 317. Ho Chong became regent in 345 and promoted Buddhism at court; two years later Sichuan was subjugated. When Emperor Xiaowu came of age, he indulged in pleasures while allowing monks and nuns to run the government. Daoan (312-85) promoted Buddhism south and north of the Yangzi River. Graft and corruption increased at the Eastern Qin court, and during the reign (397-418) of An Di a great peasant rebellion broke out and threatened Jiankang in 400 CE but was crushed in two years. About twenty years after founding the Donglin monastery in the Yangzi valley, in 402 Huiyuan (334-417) led initiated monks and lay people in vowing to be reborn in the Pure Land of the western paradise proclaimed by Mahayana Buddhism. Huiyuan communicated with Kumarajiva and wrote the Treatise on the Three Rewards to defend the doctrine of karma by explaining that some actions have their consequences in future lives. Faxian, after spending 15 years traveling to India, in 414 settled in Jiankang to translate the Buddhist scriptures he brought back.
General Liu Yu organized a campaign to invade Henan province and captured Luoyang and Chang'an in 417, but the territories were lost as soon as he returned south. He forced the Eastern Qin emperor to abdicate and founded the Liu Song dynasty at Jiankang in 420; but it was overthrown in 479 by a general named Xiao Daocheng, who proclaimed the Qi dynasty. In 502 this was transformed into the Liang when his relative Xiao Yen became the Martial Emperor (Wu Di) of Liang and patronized Buddhism so generously that Confucians protested. In 507 he sponsored a debate on the immortality of the soul, and materialist Fan Zhen criticized the money spent on lazy monks, monasteries, and images. In 529 it was said 50,000 Buddhists assembled, and four years later 300,000 persons received material gifts along with Buddhist doctrine. The preaching emperor joined the Buddhist community three times and had to be bought back by the court for large ransoms. When Liang Wu Di died in 549, powerful generals caused a civil war until one of them established the Chen dynasty (557-89) that was taken over by the Sui.
Northern China was united for a few years when Tibetans led by Fu Jian (r. 357-85) used great military force to expand the Eastern Qin kingdom. After capturing Xiangyang with 100,000 soldiers Fu Jian brought Daoan back to Chang'an. Daoan advised Fu Jian not to attack the Eastern Qin but was not heeded, and in 383 their massive army was defeated at Fei River in a critical battle that preserved Chinese culture in the south. The Toba people had moved into northern Shansi and asserted their independence in 386 as the Northern Wei, which eventually gained control of northern China in 439. During the reign (386-409) of Dao Wu Di 460,000 people were deported. Convicts were made slaves at Buddhist monasteries to reclaim wasted land by cultivation.
Confucian Cui Hao (381-450) became chancellor and gained influence with Wu Di (r. 424-51) by promoting the successful campaign against the Bei Liang kingdom in the northwest in 439. Cui Hao also recommended his Daoist friend Kou Qianzhi, who prevented the ruler from executing 3,000 resisting monks captured in that battle at Liangzhou, putting them in labor battalions. Cui Hao won the Daoist master over to Confucian principles and applied a strong Chinese penal code to the Wei kingdom. Kou after having a series of visions and taking the title of Heavenly Master persuaded the Northern Wei emperor to declare Daoism the official religion in 444, condemning mediums and sorcerers and abolishing most local cults, while anyone supporting Buddhist monks privately might be executed. Two leading monks were executed, and during a rebellion the next year at Chang'an weapons were found in a Buddhist monastery. The emperor condemned those monks to death, and Cui Hao suggested executing all the monks in the realm, though Kou managed to delay that. Cui Hao was hated for his prejudice against non-Chinese in the history he was writing, and the people's complaints led the emperor to liquidate him and his entire clan of 128 people. When Wu Di died, his successor granted Buddhists freedom. During the 5th century and early 6th nine peasant rebellions were stimulated by bands of Buddhists.
Xiao Wen Di (r. 471-99) promoted Chinese customs and prohibited other languages in court; when nomadic fighters resented the influence of Confucian scholars, he even executed his own son for refusing to cooperate with the Sinicization program. Early in his reign Buddhist monasteries were greatly expanded by Tanyao's plan of assigning penal slaves to cultivate their fields. With many farms abandoned after two centuries of war, in 485 the Wei government began distributing land to males over 15 years of age. During the reign (515-28) of Xiao Ming Di his empress Hu oversaw lavish building as Luoyang became a great center of Buddhism. By the end of the Northern Wei dynasty there were said to be 30,000 monasteries and two million Buddhist clergy. Outside the capital less effete military forces in six garrisons revolted in 523, and a civil war raged for a decade. Empress Hu had Xiao Ming Di assassinated and put a child on the throne; but tribal armies from Shansi seized Luoyang, drowned them both in the Yellow River, and murdered two thousand courtiers.
In 534 General Gao Huan set up an Eastern Wei emperor hostile to Chinese culture that in 550 became the Northern Qi dynasty, while general Yuwen Tai created a Western Wei puppet depending on the Chinese aristocracy at Chang'an. In 544 this emperor recommended the following Confucian principles to local officials: administer with compassion, value learning, cultivate land, use able and good people; penalize sparingly, and tax fairly. His son took the throne to found a Northern Zhou dynasty in 557. Wu Di of Northern Zhou (r. 561-78) organized a debate between Confucians, Buddhists, and Daoists, and in 573 he declared Confucians the winner and the next year interdicted the losing Buddhists and Daoists. Using the strategic capital at Chang'an, this dynasty also destroyed the Northern Qi in 577, reunifying north China.
Yang Jian (541-604) married a devout Buddhist, whose father
Dugu Xin had been forced to commit suicide by a powerful Yuwen
prince in 557. Yang Jian succeeded his father as Duke Sui in 568.
As a reward for helping Wu Di on his victory over the Northern
Qi in Henan in 577 Yang Jian was appointed commander of the army
and governed the conquered territory. The religious persecution
ended with Wu Di's death; but his son Yuwen Bin was Yang Jian's
son-in-law and violated his consorts and concubines. After ruling
two years he died in 580, leaving a 7-year-old son under the control
of General Yang Jian, who ended the proscription of the Buddhists
and had 120 monks ordained for the temples in Luoyang and Chang'an.
Two senior princes failed to assassinate Yang Jian and were executed.
The boy abdicated in 581, and Yang Jian usurped the throne as
Wen Di (r. 581-604) to found the Sui dynasty. Sui Wen Di claimed
the mandate of heaven but put to death 59 members of the Yuwen
family; yet as a Buddhist he believed in karma, and these killings
would haunt him. Wen Di established national Buddhist temples,
and in 583 he ordered regular services performed. The ban on Daoists
was also lifted, and Daoists were granted a metropolitan temple.
Wen Di had previously revised Northern Zhou laws, and he promulgated a New Code in 581, moderating previously severe punishments. In 583 Wen Di ordered the code simplified, and the commission headed by Pei Zheng reduced the Kaihuang Code to 500 articles. The main punishments were death, deportation to forced labor or military service, and beatings. Officials could commute these sentences to fines measured in copper. The Tribunal of Censors investigated crimes and supervised all imperial officials. The Board of Civil Office appointed suitable officials according to nine ranks, each with an upper and lower grade, and they were also responsible for annual reviews. Thus hereditary privilege was lessened. In 587 Wen Di ordered the prefectures to send three worthy men annually to the capital, but merchants and artisans were disqualified. He established schools for the study of the Confucian classics, and he particularly admired the Classic of Filial Submission. Examinations on a single classic or for literary ability were used to screen men for positions. The rule of avoidance meant that local officials could not serve in their place of origin so that family and friends would not influence them. Terms of service were for only three or four years, and parents and sons over fifteen could not accompany them. Each prefecture sent delegates to an annual court assembly.
In 588 a Sui edict condemned the immoral incompetence of the Chen ruler, and the next year eight forces said to total 518,000 men attacked the Chen in eight different places with armies, cavalry using 100,000 fresh horses from the north, and three flotillas of ships led by Yang Su. The Chen capital at Jiankang was defended by more than 100,000 troops; but the Sui forces took over the entire Chen domain of southern and eastern China from the Yangzi River to the South China Sea. Chen officials were treated leniently, and local administrations were governed by newly appointed Sui officials. However, Su Wei tried to impose the "Five Teachings" of public and private morality so forcefully that revolts broke out and killed Sui officials. Yang Su had to suppress the rebellion by killing thousands and executing their leaders.
Yang Guang, the second son of Wen Di, was the official commander in the Chen war and became the ruler of the conquered territory in 589. He attempted to make them loyal Sui subjects by introducing rational administration. He ordered Buddhist scriptures collected and copied, building a library and Buddhist temples. In 591 at Qiangdu during a vegetarian feast for a thousand monks Yang Guang asked Zhiyi (538-97), founder of Tiantai Buddhism and the most respected monk in the south, to name him a bodhisattva. Later Zhiyi petitioned Yang Guang to stop the razing of the Chen capital, particularly its Buddhist temples, and he complained after a thousand monks, who had come to hear him speak, were dispersed by Sui officials. In addition to supporting Buddhism Yang Guang had two Daoist monasteries built at his capital.
Yang Su used cavalry to scatter the army of the Eastern Turks. Wen Di ordered the collecting of a progressive grain tax that stored as much as three-quarters of a large crop but took nothing in hard years, establishing relief granaries to prevent famines. A canal was constructed from Chang'an to the Yellow River, and great walls were built in the northwest. Construction on a grand scale was begun at both capitals of Chang'an and Luoyang. Sui Wen Di also saw the completion of the Tongji canal connecting the Yellow River with the Huai and the Yangzi, and his armies gained control of northern Vietnam. In spite of his massive construction projects a militia system lessened military expenses except during campaigns, and Wen Di by frugality and his huge granaries was able to reduce taxation and exempt new population from taxes for ten years. He even proclaimed himself a disciple of the Buddha and donated 120,000 bolts of silk to repair the damage of the recent persecutions in the north.
Books were collected, annotated, and copied. An edict of 593 forbade apocryphal and prognostic books; unofficial histories and character reading were also prohibited to prevent subversion. Wen Di became dissatisfied with Confucianism, and in 601 all schools in the empire were abolished except for one college with seventy students in the capital. Instead the Emperor distributed Buddhist relics to all the prefectures, and thirty missions were sent out, followed by 53 the next year and thirty more in 604.
In 600 Yang Guang visited his mother, the monogamist Empress, who complained that the crown prince Yong had four sons by a concubine. Yang Guang began to plot against his brother Yong and was supported by Yang Su; later that year Yang Guang had himself proclaimed crown prince. In 603 Wen Di degraded his fourth son on suspicion of black magic. The next year the Emperor became ill, and Yang Guang ascended the throne, as Yang Su may have suppressed the reinstatement of Yong as successor. Han prince Liang, the youngest brother, revolted in the east; but Yang Su's army defeated his forces and put him in prison, where he soon died.
So Yang Guang became the second Sui emperor as Yang Di (r. 604-17). He traveled frequently between his three capitals at Daxing Cheng in the west, Luoyang, and his beloved Yangzi capital at Qiangdu. Yang Di was criticized for the extravagant re-building of the capital at Luoyang. Great libraries were built; the largest at Luoyang had 370,000 scrolls. An examination system based on the Confucian classics was instituted in 606 to attract scholars into the bureaucracy from the south. The new emperor disliked the criticism of his father's advisor Gao Qiong and had him executed in 607. Several other important officials were also put to death, and their families were banished. Yang Di continued to conscript large numbers of workers to extend canals to Hangzhou Bay and north to what is now Beijing, to build the great wall at Shansi, and to complete projects at Chang'an and Luoyang. Not frugal like his father, it was said that he once hired 18,000 musicians to entertain guests for a month. Such ambitious projects and floods on the lower Yellow River in 611 caused greater peasant rebellions in Hebei and Shandong.
In 608 a Sui army led by Yuwen Shu was sent to assist the Tuyu Hun; but when the latter fled, Yuwen Shu drove them from their land and enslaved 4,000 captives. Yang Di personally led the campaign against the Tuyu Hun in the Gansu corridor the next year. An expedition against Formosa or the islands in the China Sea failed in 610. The Chinese also failed to get Turkish mercenaries, and special war taxes were levied. The Sui dynasty began its decline when Yang Di mobilized 1,132,800 men for a campaign against Koguryo (Korea) in 612. Although Yang Di's armies had conquered Tibet, the three annual campaigns against northern Korea and southern Manchuria were disastrous; Eastern Turks revolted, and uprisings occurred until the end of the dynasty. In 615 Yang Di offered bounties to fight against the Turks at Yenmen and announced the end of the unpopular Koguryo war; but when the Emperor went back on both promises, he lost credibility. Stimulated by his son Li Shimin, general Li Yuan rebelled in Shansi, allied with Turkish tribes, and marched on Chang'an, where he founded the Tang dynasty. As the Sui empire was disintegrating, Yang Di fled to southern China, where he was assassinated in his bath by a descendant of the Yuwen family and the son of his general Yuwen Shu in 618.
While Li Yuan reigned (618-26) as Gaozu at Chang'an, many contenders
for the Sui throne fought each other in the south. Gaozu had twelve
large standing armies plus regional commands of local militias.
Yet with so many domestic battles, Gaozu paid tribute to the Eastern
Turks to keep them from invading. In 622 the twelve imperial armies
were disbanded. That year Li Shimin stopped a force of 150,000
Turks led by khagan Xieli into Taiyuan; but the next year
the twelve armies were called back to counter the Turkish threat
that put the capital at Chang'an under martial law and to face
another incursion into Taiyuan in 625. Tang armies led by the
Emperor's sons, Li Shimin in the south and eastern plain and crown
prince Jiancheng in the northwest, offered amnesty and put down
most of the resistance by 624.
Uniform coins were minted starting in 621. Most of the great Luoyang library was lost in a disastrous accident in 622, leaving only 90,000 scrolls, though this was increased to 200,000 by the end of the reign. By 624 Gaozu had completed a centralized code of Tang laws, distributed land to adult males, implemented the northern equal-field system, and reformed taxes to apply to persons instead of property. Irrigation systems were constructed diverting water from the Huangho (Yellow River) in 624, and a canal was built in Shensi to transport grain to the capital. The three schools in Chang'an were re-opened to prepare sons of the aristocracy for examinations. At court heated debates took place between Confucians, Buddhists, and Daoists. The court astrologer Fu Yi wrote memorials criticizing Buddhism for removing tens of thousands of men and women from secular work. In 626 Gaozu reduced 120 Buddhist temples to three and Daoist temples from about ten to one; but these directives were canceled three months later when Gaozu's son Li Shimin took over the government.
Li Shimin had gained much prestige for his victories over the rebel leaders Dou Jiande and Wang Shichong, and in 621 he founded his own literary college. After falsely accusing his brothers of having illicit relations with the imperial harem, Li Shimin ambushed them at the palace gate, killing the heir apparent Jiancheng himself, while his officer murdered his younger brother Yuanji. Three days later Li Shimin proclaimed himself Emperor Tang Taizong (r. 626-49) and forced his father to retire. Having had a successful military career, Taizong restrained building projects and listened to his advisors, gaining a fine reputation for good Confucian rule for several years. He expanded Confucian education, standardized the curriculum on its classics, and developed the civil service examination system. Under his father the Sui bureaucracy had doubled, but Taizong reduced administrative subdivisions.
Relief granaries were established in 628. That year a school of calligraphy was founded, followed by a school of law in 632. A commission was appointed in 629 to write histories, and the same year an imperial order proclaimed that monks illegally ordained for tax evasion were to be executed, though after ten years of development a new law code was decreed in 637 that reduced the number of capital offenses. By 637 Ma Zhou was complaining of increased labor services and disregard of the people, and Wei Zheng criticized Taizong's arrogance and extravagance. The appointment of Wei Zheng as counselor had set an example of amnesty, because he had supported a major rebel. In 639 Taizong ordered clergy to obey the dying instructions of the Buddha in the Fo Yijiao jing in order to keep them out of politics. Xuan Zang (602-64) traveled to India (629-45) and then returned to Chang'an to direct the translation of 1338 chapters of Buddhist texts out of the total 5084 translated into Chinese over six centuries.
Wars between the Turks helped the Tang regime to subjugate the Eastern Turks in 630 when Taizong was declared a khan, their chief ruler. About 100,000 defeated Turks were resettled in southern China. The silk route west was protected when the Chinese were aided by the Uighur tribes in taking the Tarim Basin from the Western Turks, who were also divided by a civil war in 630. An administrative protectorate was established there along with one in the north for Mongolia, in the east for southern Manchuria, and in the south called Annan, which later gave the name Annam to Vietnam. The state of Karashahr began paying tribute to the Tang in 632; but an alliance with the Western Turks made them stop until the Chinese invaded and occupied Karashahr in 644, defeating the Western Turkish army. This war caused Kucha to stop paying tribute until the Tang army defeated them in 648.
The Tibetan Tuyuhun brought tribute to Chang'an in 634 but plundered Chinese territory on their way home, causing the Tang army to launch a punitive campaign. Tibetan king Srongbtsansgampo asked to marry a Chinese princess and was rebuffed, causing fighting until the Chinese complied in 641. Peace was maintained with the Koguryo after they sent tribute to the Tang in 619 until the Tang vassal state Silla complained that Koguryo and Paekche attacked them in 643. A large Tang campaign was planned; but in 645 the Tang army could not take the fortress city of Anshi, and thousands of returning soldiers perished in a blizzard. Taizong ordered a large armada built and prepared an even larger expedition, but he died before it could be launched. Despite this disappointment at the end of his life, Taizong was remembered as one of the greatest of Chinese emperors, and his discussions with his advisors compiled by Wu Jing in 705 in the Zhenguan Zhengyao became a popular guidebook on imperial government.
The heir apparent Li Chengqian's plot to take the throne was exposed when Qi prince Li You's revolt failed in 643. Chengqian was degraded to a commoner and died the next year. Taizong was succeeded by his son Li Zhi, who became Gaozong (r. 649-83); but most of his reign was overshadowed by the clever and powerful Empress Wu. Wu Zhao came to the palace about 640 during her teens as a low-ranking concubine. According to the story, after Taizong died, she went to a nunnery, where she was found by Gaozong and bore him a son in 652. The Empress Wang had made many enemies; Wu intrigued with them until Wang was demoted, and Wu became Gaozong's principal consort in 655. Wu then had Wang and her concubine accomplice murdered, and many of her opponents were also purged by exile, murder, or suicide.
When Gaozong suffered bad health as the result of a stroke in 660, Empress Wu took control of the imperial administration. She became a devoted Daoist, and the immense Buddhist translation project was ended in 664. Lao-zi was given resplendent titles in 666, and Daoist temples were erected in every prefecture. That year the currency was debased 90%, and in 670 grain was so scarce that wine brewing was prohibited. More than half the population was unregistered and so paid no taxes. In 674 Empress Wu tried to win public favor by proclaiming an enlightened twelve-point reform program that promoted agriculture, remission of taxes, cessation of military operations, no extravagant building, reduction of unpaid labor, increased free expression, suppression of slander, study of the Dao De Jing, full mourning periods for mothers, making honorific officials permanent, increased official salaries, and promotion of talented officials. Yet the next year she started removing imperial family members she considered threatening, and many prominent officials were banished. Meanwhile the empire was in a financial crisis because of decades of ruinous wars and extravagant public building. The examinations were suspended most of the time between 669 and 679 but were held regularly after they were reformed in 681.
By helping the Silla defeat the Koguryo, Tang forces made a unified Korea a loyal vassal in 668 as 200,000 captives were deported to China. Two years later a revolt against Chinese occupation restored the Koguryo house, and in 676 the Chinese withdrew from Pyongyang. During the reign of Gaozong the Tarim Basin was lost to Tibet, though it was later regained under Empress Wu. Tang armies were able to quell a 679 rebellion by Eastern Turks after heavy losses by 681. Empress Wu deposed Gaozong's successor after one year and installed a puppet, ordering many in the royal family and hundreds of aristocrats executed. She quelled rebellions by rewarding those who resisted them while granting amnesty to those who had been coerced into joining them. In 685 she took a lover, who was installed as abbot of the most prestigious monastery.
In 690 Empress Wu inaugurated the Zhou dynasty, proclaimed herself an incarnation of the future Buddha Maitreya, and made Luoyang the "holy capital." In 693 she replaced the compulsory Dao De Jing in the curriculum temporarily with her own Rules for Officials. In 697 while Empress Wu was considering adding to the 870 tons of bronze already used for nine ceremonial tripods, Khitans were marching unopposed into the Beijing area. Then she sent two large armies to stop their advance. Eventually she allowed the Northern Turks led by Qapaghan with his army of 400,000 to take over large territories north of the Wall. The last years of her reign were dominated by the Zhang brothers when corruption and patronage became widespread until they were executed by a conspiracy in 705. The Tang dynasty was restored, and Empress Wu died later that year. Objective assessment of her policies is difficult since Confucian historians disapproved of her as a woman and a Daoist. For five years while Empress Wei and her daughter were powerful, princes, officials, favorites, and monasteries enriched themselves and enlarged their estates, while taxes falling on peasant farmers and tenants multiplied.
In 710 Xuanzong (r. 712-56) put his father on the throne but after two years became emperor himself. After the Taiping princess committed suicide in 713, all but one of the chief ministers were executed or committed suicide. Yao Chong implemented the following ten reforms: govern humanely instead of by harsh deterrents; refrain from military adventures; apply law equally to all; exclude eunuchs from politics; prohibit excessive taxes; exclude imperial relatives from the central government; restore the personal authority of the emperor; allow ministers to freely remonstrate without fear of punishment; suspend construction of Buddhist and Daoist temples; and eliminate the power of consort families. Court business was now conducted openly in public, and examination graduates were appointed as the chief ministers. The Buddhist clergy was investigated, and more than 30,000 monks and nuns were returned to lay life. Building of new monasteries was banned. New Statutes, Regulations and Ordinances were promulgated in 715. Stored grain was no longer sent to the capital as revenue but was saved for relieving famine.
Xuanzong managed to increase the number of families on the tax registers, gave more control to local military commanders, increased the number of horses by improving government stud farms, and repaired canals to facilitate grain transport from the south to northern armies. As population increased along with the concentration of wealth and property, there was not enough land for the poor, and per-capita taxes paid in grain, cloth (silk or hemp), and labor (or military service) became problematic; gradually more progressive taxes on land and wealth were instituted along with commercial taxes.
Although fighting occurred in 714 with the Tibetans and Eastern Turks, a large imperial army estimated in 722 at more than 600,000 kept the peace. Zhang Yue persuaded the Emperor to return a third of these to farming. By 723 120,000 paid soldiers had replaced the militia in the capital guards, and frontier armies also became more professional. Chief ministers were also paid regularly with the revenues of 300 households, while provincial officials received regular salaries, though allowances for their attendants were cut. Roads with post-stations at intervals provided hostels and restaurants for traveling officials. Hierarchical and delegated government authority included an independent board of censors to investigate public and private abuses by officials. After 738 more and more imperial edicts were drawn up by the Academy of Scholars.
Schools of Buddhism flourished throughout China as never before. The Pure Land sect practiced chanting homage to the Amitabha Buddha. One of its masters, Cimin (680-748), spent twelve years in India (704-16) and criticized the popular Chan school for concentrating on meditation while neglecting equally important learning and moral behavior. To limit corruption in growing Buddhist monasteries in 729 a government census was begun to assure that each prefecture had only one official monastery with no more than thirty monks. Xuanzong sponsored at the capital Tantric masters Subhakarasimha 716-35 and Vajrabodhi 719-41. In 741 the Emperor set up Daoist schools, and in 747 the Dao De Jing was declared the most important canonical book. The aristocracy won a major battle against the meritocracy in 737 when Wei valley noble Li Linfu overcame the scholarly civil servant Zhang Jiuling, and his new versions of the law codes and commentaries were promulgated. By 742 military forces of 574,733 men made up a little more than one percent of the population. The violent purges of Li Linfu that began in 744 removed many prominent men from government.
The peace with Tibet ended in 736 when they attacked Gilgit, and sporadic fighting continued through the rest of Xuanzong's reign. The Turkish empire ended when the Uighurs killed their last kaghan Baimei in 745. Although military expenditures were increasing, the great Tang empire in this era had no equal in the world. At this peak of imperial power in 751 Tang armies were defeated by the Thai state of Nanzhao, and the Muslims defeated the Tang's Korean general at Talas in Central Asia. When the prime minister Li Linfu died the next year, and the Emperor Xuanzong, distracted by a high-class prostitute, appointed his favorite Yang Guozhong, the slighted general An Lushan brought his armies from the north in 755 and took over Luoyang and Chang'an. The Emperor fled to Chengdu in Sichuan, where his army forced him to put to death his favorite concubine and her brother. Xuanzong was declared retired in 756 and died five years later. His son Suzong reigned (756-62) while China was torn apart by An Lushan's rebellion. An Lushan was murdered by his son in 757, and so was the general who took over the rebellion. In 760 insurgent bands massacred several thousand Arab and Persian merchants at Yangzhou.
Daizong (r. 762-79) sent a Turkish general to bribe the Uighurs, who helped Tang forces defeat the rebels at Chang'an in 763, the year the Tibetans invaded Chang'an. As regional commanders became more independent, the decline of the central government is indicated by the census figures for the next year that showed a population of 16,900,000 compared to 52,880,488 ten years earlier. Unable to raise revenues with regular taxes, the Tang state created a salt monopoly in 759 which in twenty years was producing half the government's revenue, as merchants became richer collecting salt taxes. Monopolies were also organized in alcohol in 764 and in the rapidly expanding consumption of tea in 793. Daizong was criticized for being influenced by the Tantric monk Amoghavajra (715-74).
The energetic Dezong (r. 779-805) tried to stop the decline. A twice annual tax on land and harvests was systematized by reformer Yang Yen in 780. Large sums of capital and credit stimulated commerce, as each provincial capital thrived. Improvements in growing rice enabled the south to export large amounts of food via canals. Yet rebellions by independent commanders in the northwest broke out between 781 and 786 after Emperor Dezong assigned a quota of taxes to each province and would not allow them to appoint their own governors. In 783 Dezong had to flee Chang'an. In this crisis the leadership of two eunuchs and Lu Zhi began the rise of the inner court's power. Tibet took advantage of the situation by breaking their pledge to help fight the rebels and by invading Shensi in 785. The independent Hebei provinces increased their armies; but the rebels could not get along with each other, and the south stayed loyal. Lu Zhi had served in the Hanlin Academy (779-91) before he was appointed chief minister; but he was replaced by the corrupt finance minister Pei Yenling in 795. In 790 Tibetans had defeated the Uighurs and the Tang army, but in 794 Nanzhao renounced Tibetan sovereignty and joined with the Chinese invading Tibet in 801. A half century of foreign wars were over by his death, and Dezong had built up the palace army to 100,000 though command was given to the eunuchs, who managed to get rid of the next monarch in a year.
Xianzong (r. 806-20) used Tang imperial power to quell rebellions in Sichuan and the Yangzi delta, though he had to compromise with the governors of Hebei. In 807 chief minister Li Jifu reported that only eight provinces were paying taxes to the Tang government. Pei Ji tried to gain money by controlling the price of silk, but mobilization for the internal wars of 809-10 exhausted Tang finances. Uprisings in the Huai valley and Pinglu province 815-18 were also crushed, restoring central governmental authority. After Pinglu governor Li Shidao was assassinated in 819, this dangerous northern province was divided into three parts. New prefectures were also organized in the Tianping and Yenhai provinces, and they were allowed to keep their entire revenues until 832.
Chinese militarism is indicated by government estimates of the number of soldiers that went from 850,000 in 807 to a record 990,000 in the early 820s; the central government alone was paying 400,000 in 837. Observing hysteria over moving a relic of the Buddha in 819, the influential writer Han Yu (768-824) criticized Buddhism as a foreign religion that changed Chinese customs adversely; he was banished for his temerity. In 836 an imperial decree forbade the Chinese from having relations with "people of color" (foreigners). Provincial administrations were controlled by eunuch army supervisors, who were resented by officials, and factional conflicts between the Niu and Li political parties weakened the Tang regime. Eunuchs had murdered Xianzong, and in despair Emperor Wenzong (r. 827-40) seems to have drank himself to death at the age of thirty. His attempt to ambush eunuchs in the "sweet dew" incident of 835 had resulted in the army massacring more than a thousand people in the government quarter.
When Wuzong (r. 840-46) became emperor, only the benevolence of Li Deyu, son of Li Jifu, prevented the two chief ministers of the Niu party from being put to death; but by consolidating power Li Deyu was able to implement some minor reforms in reducing the independence of the Hanlin secretaries. Li Deyu took command of the war against the Uighurs that killed 10,000 of them in 843. The cost of wars, harem luxury, and the eunuch establishment caused the Daoist Wuzong to try to solve the financial crisis by reigning in the economically powerful Buddhist monasteries and their monks that were exempt from taxation by closing 40,000 shrines, melting down their precious metals, confiscating their gems, freeing their 150,000 slaves (dependents), and returning 260,000 monks and nuns to lay life. Buddhist monasteries operated mills and oil presses, provided loans, lodgings for travelers, hospitals for the sick, homes for the aged, and primary schools for poor children. Other foreign religions that had also been tolerated, such as Zoroastrians, Nestorian Christians, and Manichaeans were closed down, though Jews and Muslims managed to survive.
The next emperor Xuanzong (r. 846-59) was elevated to the throne by palace eunuchs and immediately demoted Li Deyu, who was sent to an island, where he died in 850. Xuanzong revived Buddhism after the three-year persecution, executing eleven Daoist advisors who had urged that policy. Buddhists sects emphasizing rituals, shrines, and temples did not revive as well as the Pure Land and Chan schools that emphasized prayer and meditation respectively.
During the first half of the 9th century much of the tax burden had fallen on the prosperous lower Yangzi provinces until they could no longer be exploited. Thus in the second half of the century Tang administration gradually declined. Insurrections began in southern China in 856. A revolt broke out in Annam in 858, and the next year the Nan Zhao invaded. At the same time the bandit leader Qiu Fu revolted in Zhedong, gathering peasants who had abandoned their lands, though in 860 Qiu Fu was captured. Emperor Yizong (r. 859-73) was chronically ill from taking Daoist elixirs, and the hostility between the eunuchs and officials increased. In 868 a mutiny in Pang Xun had to be put down by using tribal cavalry from beyond the Great Wall. When Yizong's daughter died after marrying Wei Baoheng in 870, the Emperor executed her physicians and put their families in jail. Wei Baoheng then banished his opponents, and the mayor of Chang'an committed suicide. Yizong did further his father's patronage of Buddhism.
Two eunuch generals raised Yizong's fifth son to the throne as Xizong (r. 873-88). In 874 a rebellion led by Huang Chao began with defiance of the salt tax, and brigandage became widespread especially between the Yellow and Huai rivers. Bandits attacked prefectural cities and confederated into large organizations. By 877 few areas of China were free of rebel activity, but the next year the Tang government began winning victories. More mutinies north of the Yellow River weakened imperial forces, and in 879 rebels sacked Nanhai (Canton) and massacred foreign merchants. The capitals of Luoyang and Chang'an were captured by 600,000 insurgents led by Huang Chao in the next two years, forcing the Emperor to flee to Chengdu in Sichuan for four years. During the exile the court was divided by the hatred between the eunuchs and the aristocratic officials and tried to raise revenue with a monopoly tax on salt. Irked by a critical poem, Huang Chao ordered every poet killed and made anyone who could write do menial labor; more than 3,000 people were killed. Two prefect governors defected from the harsh Huang Chao. In 883 Shato leader Li Koyong's Hodong forces defeated the army of Huang Chao and those of other provinces before sacking the capital at Chang'an that had been abandoned again, leaving it in ruins. The next year Huang Chao was cornered and cut his own throat. His former ally Zhu Wen was by now a military governor.
Zhaozong (r. 888-904) merely tried to survive while eunuchs were in control of diminished territory. Local militias were organized by Wei Zhunjing to fight the rebels, and by 892 his 34 militia armies had about 45,000 men. During the ten-year revolt, regional commanders became independent. By 901 eunuchs and ministers were even injuring themselves to defeat their court enemies. A struggle for control in the north resulted in Zhu Wen setting up a puppet emperor in 904 and usurping the throne himself three years later when he moved the capital east to Bian (Kaifeng). He thus ended the Tang dynasty and founded the Later Liang dynasty (907-23) during which wars continued to ravage northern China.
After the collapse of the Tang dynasty in 907, northern China
was ruled by a sequence of five dynasties until 960-Later Liang
907-23, Later Tang 923-36, Later Jin 936-46, Later Han 946-50,
and Later Zhou 951-60. At the same time ten kingdoms ruled fairly
consistently with eight of them in the south, the Tangut in the
northwest, and the Khitans (Liao) in the far north. Block printing
had been used to print books since at least the seventh century.
In 940 an anthology of lyric poetry was published that was called
Amidst the Flowers because many of the poems were about
courtesans. Around the same time eleven Confucian classics were
printed in 130 volumes. After the Later Han emperor was assassinated
at the end of 950, the popular military leader Guo Wei proclaimed
the Great Zhou dynasty (951-60) that unified most of northern
China and in 955 melted down precious metals taken from Buddhist
shrines to make coins. During this rebellious era many aristocratic
estates were taken over by their managers. When the second Zhou
ruler, Guo Rong, was succeeded by his six-year-old son in 959,
soldiers rioted and made Zhao Kuangyin emperor. He restrained
the military and founded the Song dynasty in 960.
Abaoji was born in 872, and in 901 he was elected chieftain of the Yila tribe. In 905 he led 70,000 cavalry in an attack on Datong in Shanxi and became the blood brother of Li Keyong. Two years later the chieftains recognized Abaoji as the great khan of the Khitan nation. He modeled the Liao government after the Chinese, and in 918 had a capital built. Abaoji called the military department of the government the Northern Chancellery and the civil section the Southern Chancellery. Although his empire took in sedentary peoples, the Khitans maintained the steppe traditions. Under Abaoji the Khitans took over Inner Mongolia and southern Manchuria, and the Liao had regional capitals. He extended the Liao empire east to the Yalu and Ussuri rivers, conquering the Bohai kingdom, where he died of typhoid fever in 926. Abaoji had named his son Bei the prince of Dongdan and his successor, and the clan name Yelu was adopted by his dynasty. However, Empress Yingtian and others forced Bei to abdicate and made her second son Deguang the second Liao emperor. Bei was drawn to Chinese culture and in 934 urged the Khitans to invade northern China. When the Khitans attacked in 936, the Later Tang ruler had Bei assassinated. In 940 an imperial decree abolished the Khitan custom of making a younger sister marry the husband of her dead older sister. The Liao demanded sixteen prefectures in northern China from the Later Jin and gained nineteen prefectures by invading the capital at Kaifeng in March 947, ending the Later Jin dynasty. Yelu Deguang put on the imperial robes of the Chinese, but he left when the weather got warm and died of illness in May.
Dowager Empress Yingtian named Bei's son Wuyu as emperor. The short-lived Later Hans (947-51) pushed back the Khitans and destroyed 30,000 Buddhist monasteries and shrines in order to confiscate their property. When Wuyu was killed by a rebellious nephew in 951, Deguang's son Yelu Jing became Emperor Muzong. He was violent and cruel, spending his time hunting and drinking; when he started killing his bodyguards, six attendants finally murdered him in 969. Then the Liao line reverted to Bei's grandson Xian, who became Emperor Jingzong. In 979 the Khitans defended the Northern Han and helped them defeat the attacking Song armies. Jingzong's son became Emperor Shengzong (r. 982-1031). The Liao empire assimilated Chinese immigrants and culture, while treating badly the Bohai people of eastern Manchuria. The Khitans adopted the Chinese examination system in 988 and began holding triennial exams. In 1005 the Song Chinese bought peace with the Khitans by offering to pay them 200,000 bolts of silk and 100,000 ounces of silver annually. After the Korean king was deposed in 1009, Shengzong led the Khitan invasion with an army reported to be 400,000 that burned the Korean capital at Kaekyong (Kaesong). The Liao made territorial demands, but in 1019 Korea gained a favorable settlement. The Bohai people rebelled in 1029 but were put down the following year. Xingzong (r. 1031-55) was also interested in Chinese culture. In 1036 the Liao compiled their laws passed since Abaoji, though conflicts between the tribes and the Chinese continued. A Liao edition of the complete Buddhist Tripitaka was completed about 1075 while Daozong ruled the Liao from 1055 until 1101.
The last Liao ruler, Tianzuo (r. 1101-25), led the losing effort
against the Jurchens until he fled west into the desert in 1122.
Nobles put his uncle on the throne as Tianxi, and the Liao forces
fought off the Song invasion. When Tianxi died in 1123, the Jurchens
recaptured the southern capital, forcing Yelu Dashi and other
nobles to flee to join Tianzuo. He led an attack on the Jurchens
but in 1125 was defeated, captured, and died in prison. Meanwhile
Yelu Dashi and a few hundred followers had crossed the Gobi Desert
to Zhenzhou. He was given the Turkic title Gurkhan, meaning chief
of the khans. In 1131 they moved northwest into Transoxiana and
eventually became known as the Kara-Khitai, or Black Khitans.
Yelu Dashi died in 1143 and was succeeded by his son and grandson,
who ruled until they were absorbed by the Mongols in 1221.
Tangut chieftains of the Tuoba clan had been recognized as Xia dukes by the Tang empire in 883. Using the imperial surname Li, in 954 the Chinese acknowledged Li Yixing as the king of Xiping, and upon his death in 967 Song Taizu called him the king of Xia. Like Korea in the east, the Xia in the west had to compete with both the Liao and the Song empires. Li Jipeng became king of Xia in 980 and two years later went to live at Kaifeng as China's military governor of Xi (Western) Xia. His young cousin Li Jiqian objected to this submission and fled to the desert in the north. When the Song armies invaded the Khitans in 986, Li Jiqian became an ally of the Liao and attacked the Song forces. He married a Liao princess and in 990 was recognized by the Liao as king of Xia. The next year Li Jipeng came back from the Song court to fight his cousin and was called the king of Xiping by the Liao court. In 1004 Li Jiqian was killed fighting the Tibetans in the west, and Li Jipeng died the same year. Jiqian's son Li Deming became king and ruled the Xia until 1032.
Deming's son Yuanhao rejected the Li surname and thought his father had made Tanguts weak by accepting Chinese bribes. He went back to raiding, ordered a new script that used 6,000 characters, and in 1038 proclaimed himself emperor of Da (Great) Xia. Yuanhao ordered Tangut clothing worn and all men to shave their heads within three days or be decapitated. He conscripted men older than fourteen into his army and took the tribal nobility into his elite cavalry of 5,000. The Song empire closed its borders and became antagonistic. In 1042 the Liao joined with the Xia and threatened to invade China, resulting in a new treaty that increased the Song tribute to the Khitans to 300,000 bolts of silk and 200,000 ounces of silver. The Xia demanded tribute also, and in 1044 the Song agreed to give them 130,000 bolts of silk, 50,000 ounces of silver, and 20,000 catties of tea annually, plus lavish gifts on three annual festivals and Yuanhao's birthday. When Tangut tribes revolted in the Liao empire, a Khitan army of 100,000 crossed the border and defeated the Xia army. Yuanhao went to the Liao capital and returned to arouse his own forces that then defeated the Khitans.
In 1048 an opposing clan assassinated Yuanhao, and the next year the Liao took advantage of the chaos to invade again. In 1061 the fourteen-year-old heir Li Liangzuo reversed his father's policies and adopted Chinese culture; but the Song court insulted the Xia envoy in 1064, causing border skirmishes for several years. Li Liangzuo was called Emperor Yizong and died in 1068; his son Bingchang was only seven years old, and his mother ruled as regent. When she sent him to an isolated garrison in 1081, civil strife broke out. In 1086 Bingchang's son became Emperor Chongzong at the age of three. Another regency lasted until the Empress was poisoned by a Liao envoy in 1099, and then Chongzong ruled until 1139. He continued sinification and centralized his authority over the tribal chiefs, whom he appointed as kings. Buddhism was popular, and scriptures were translated from Chinese and Tibetan into Tangut. While the Liao empire was being taken over by the Jurchens, the Song briefly made the Xia submit in 1119. As the last Liao emperor was fleeing, the Xia emperor led a fight against the Jurchens in 1122, but the Xia were defeated the next year. In 1127 the Xia made a treaty with the new Jin empire that recognized their superiority and redefined borders.
Xia emperor Renzong (r. 1139-93) succeeded his father at the age of fifteen. Renzong had a Chinese mother and favored Chinese culture. His extravagance burdened the Tangut people and aroused rebellion. In 1143 a severe earthquake and Yellow River flooding devastated farmers. Ren Dejing, a former Song military commander whose daughter was an empress dowager, led the effort that suppressed the rebellion. Ren Dejing was named duke of Xiping and had an extravagant court. In 1170 he told the Emperor to divide the empire and recognize his independent state of Chu, but Renzong refused. Ren tried to send a messenger through Jin territory to the Song state; this was intercepted by the Xia, and Ren Dejing and his faction were executed. Renzong promoted Confucian education and expanded the National Academy his father had founded.
After Huanzong (r. 1194-1206) the Xia had four rulers before
they succumbed to the Mongols in 1227. The Mongols
first raided Xia in 1205, and four years later they surrounded
the capital. In 1211 Li Zunxu usurped the throne from his nephew
and ruled as Shenzong until 1223. He made peace with the Mongols
but refused to supply them with warriors in 1217. The Mongols
surrounded the capital again. The Jurchens refused to help; so
the Song and the Xia formed an alliance against the Jin. In 1220
the Jin asked for help against the Mongols; but this time Shenzong
refused, and the Jin defeated the Xia. In 1221 the Mongols occupied
Xia territory for two years. The unpopular Shenzong abdicated
in 1223, and the next emperor allied with the Jurchens against
the Mongols. In 1226 Genghis
(Chinggis) Khan led the final
siege against the Xia capital, but he died before the Mongols'
victory. In 1227 the last Xia ruler surrendered and was butchered.
Like the Koreans and Manchus, the Jurchens used a Tungusic branch of the Altaic language. Wanyan Wugunai (1021-74) arose as the leader of the wild Jurchens, and his grandson was Wanyan Aguda (1068-1123). Aguda succeeded his older brother in 1114 and attacked the Liao border defenses the next year. In 1115 he founded the Jin dynasty, and with an army of 10,000 defeated the Liao army that was at least ten times as large but retreated. The fierce Jurchens captured the Liao's eastern capital in 1116, their main northern capital in 1120, and in 1122 the central, western, and southern capitals. Aguda was advised by the scholarly Yang Pu, who was a Bohai but had earned the highest jinshi degree. He was experienced in the Liao's dual administration that the Jurchens adopted. Aguda made a treaty with the Song to return the northern territory the Khitans had occupied since 938. However, the Song armies failed to take the southern capital as promised. The Jurchens turned over the city but only after looting it and deporting the residents.
Aguda's brother Wuqimai was an effective administrator and became Jin Taizong in 1123, imposing an alliance on the Xi Xia the next year. In 1126 the Jurchens took back the Liao southern capital and then invaded the Song, surrounding Kaifeng. Before fleeing, Emperor Huizong abdicated to his son, who became Emperor Qinzong. Aguda's son, Wanyan Zongwang, was commander of the Eastern Army and made a treaty with the Song. Qinzong surrendered, and Huizong was captured; both were sent into Manchuria to spend the rest of their lives in exile. From the Song treasury the Jin gained 150 million ounces of gold, 400 million ounces of silver, and millions of bolts of silk, plus weapons, manufactures, and artistic productions. Song emperor Gaozong (r. 1127-62) escaped by crossing the Yangzi and even going to sea for a while. The Jurchens ordered the Chinese men to shave the front of their heads and wear Jurchen clothing styles. The Jin tried to establish a puppet regime as the state of Qi until 1137 but then made the Huai River their southern boundary. Wuqimai abolished the council of the great chieftains in 1134. The Jurchens adopted the Chinese civil service examinations but had a dual system that enabled many Jurchens to pass in their own language. During the century-long Jin empire more than 16,000 jinshi degrees were awarded. Most chose the literature exam that emphasized poetry, and very few attempted the most difficult test on history, statecraft, and philosophy.
About three million people, half of them Jurchens, migrated south into northern China over two decades, and this minority governed about thirty million Chinese. The Jurchens were given land grants and organized society into meng'an (one thousand households) and mouke (one hundred households). Many married Chinese, although the ban on Jurchen nobles marrying Chinese was not lifted until 1191. After Wuqimai died in 1135, the next three Jin emperors were grandsons of Aguda by three different princes. Young Jin Xizong (r. 1135-49) studied the classics and wrote Chinese poetry. He adopted Chinese cultural traditions, but the Jurchen nobles had the top positions. In the winter of 1142 the Jin dynasty made a treaty with the Song that gave them annual tribute and diplomatic respect.
Jin Xizong became an alcoholic and executed many Chinese officials for criticizing him. He also had Jurchen leaders who opposed him murdered, even those in his own Wanyan clan. In 1149 he was murdered by a cabal of relatives and nobles, who made his cousin Wanyan Liang the next Jin emperor. He was also violent, and historians refused to give him a posthumous name as an emperor but only referred to him as Prince Hailing. In 1153 he moved the Jin capital to the site of the old Liao southern capital, which is now Beijing, and four years later he had the old capital razed, including the nobles' residences. He lavishly reconstructed the Song capital of Bian (Kaifeng) as the Jin southern capital. Hailing also tried to suppress dissent by killing Jurchen nobles, executing 155 princes. He spent two years preparing for a war against the southern Song. His building and military expenses strained the resources, and in 1161 Khitans revolted in Manchuria. Jurchen nobles rebelled in southern Manchuria and were led by Wanyan Yong, who was proclaimed emperor in October, two months before the generals assassinated Hailing in his military camp after his defeat by the Song. His son and heir was also killed in the capital, and Wanyan Yong became Emperor Shizong.
Jin Shizong (r. 1162-89) attempted to revive the fading Jurchen traditions. The Khitan uprising was not suppressed until 1164; their horses were confiscated so that the rebels had to take up farming. Other Khitan and Xia cavalry units had been incorporated into the Jin army. In the early 1180s Shizong instituted a restructuring of 200 meng'an units to remove tax abuses and help Jurchens. Communal farming was encouraged. The Jin empire prospered and had a large surplus of grain in reserve. Shizong's grandson, Emperor Zhangzong (r. 1189-1208) venerated Jurchen values, but he also immersed himself in Chinese culture and married a Chinese woman. The Taihe Code of law was promulgated in 1201 and was based mostly on the Tang Code. Near the end of his reign the Song Chinese tried to invade, but the Jin forces effectively repulsed them. In the peace agreement the Song had to pay higher annual indemnities and behead Han Tuozhou, the leader of their war party.
Genghis Khan first led the Mongols into Xi Xia territory in 1205 and ravaged them four years later. In 1211 about 50,000 Mongols on horses invaded the Jin empire and began absorbing Khitan and Jurchen rebels. The Jin army had a half million men with 150,000 cavalry but abandoned the western capital. The next year the Mongols went north and looted the Jin eastern capital, and in 1213 they besieged the central capital. The next year the Jin made a humiliating treaty but retained the capital. That summer Emperor Jin Xuanzong (r. 1213-24) abandoned the central capital and moved the government to the southern capital. In 1216 a war faction persuaded Xuanzong to attack the Song, but in 1219 they were defeated at the same place by the Yangzi River, where Prince Hailing had been defeated in 1161. Emperor Jin Aizong (r. 1224-34) won a succession struggle against his brother and then quickly ended the war and went back to the capital. He made peace with the Tanguts, who had been allied with the Mongols. Genghis Khan died in 1227 while his armies were conquering the Xia. His son Ogodei invaded the Jin empire in 1232. The Jurchens tried to resist; but when the southern capital was attacked, Aizong fled south. The Mongols looted the capital in 1233, and the next year Aizong committed suicide to avoid being captured, ending the Jin dynasty.
General Zhao Kuangyin was chosen commander of the imperial army by the last Zhou emperor in 959 after gold he had been accused of taking during a military campaign turned out to be trunks of books. The next year the army hailed him as the emperor of China, and as Song Taizu he founded the Song dynasty (960-1279). The ingenious Taizu (r. 960-76) managed to accomplish "disarmament over a wine-cup" by persuading his generals to retire with generous pensions and honors. He dismissed old commanders and relied on younger generals who followed his humane policies. He also strengthened the central government by transferring the best military units to the capital. Regional governments were put under civilian authority emphasizing the Confucian spirit of administration. Scholars became prominent advisors, and taxes were reduced as the emperor lived modestly. Having superior force, Taizu was able to use diplomacy and accommodating terms to bring back into the Chinese empire the southwest (965), the south (971), and the Yangzi basin (975). Thanks to the book-loving emperor, the imperial library founded in 978 had 80,000 volumes. Taizu made peace with the Liao in 974 and set up garrisons along the northern border.
Taizu was succeeded by his brother, who became known as Song Taizong (r. 976-97). He broke the peace by invading the Northern Han territory in 979 and besieging their capital at Taiyuan. After they surrendered in June, the Song army invaded the Liao. However, his exhausted troops were badly defeated by the Khitan cavalry, as Emperor Taizong fled in a mule cart. Some generals considered replacing him with Taizu's oldest son. When the Emperor heard of the idea, he forced him to commit suicide. Taizu's other son died of illness two years later. In 982 the brother of Taizong and Taizu was accused of treason, and he died in exile two years later. The Chinese bought 170,000 horses from the Khitan and consolidated a more compact empire. Annam (Vietnam) repelled a Song campaign in 981, and the Chinese armies were badly defeated again five years later by the Khitan Liao. After several battles ended in stalemate, Emperor Zhenzong (998-1022) in the 1005 treaty of Shanyuan agreed to pay the Liao an annual tribute of silver and silk if the Khitans would stay on the north side of the Great Wall. Better civil service examinations improved the quality of the Song bureaucracy, and paper money was introduced as promissory notes in 1024. As the Song army grew from 378,000 in 976 to 1,259,000 in 1041, military expenses took up four-fifths of government expenditures. Taizong and Zhenzong were Daoists and sponsored the building of Daoist temples.
Fan Zhongyan (989-1052) rose from a poor family by study and became prefect of the capital at Kaifeng. In 1043 he submitted a ten-point memorial. He proposed reforming the civil service by promoting the able, dismissing the incompetent, eliminating favoritism, and making exam questions more practical. Local government could be improved by increasing salaries, by making corvée labor requirements more equitable, and by investing in dykes, canals, land reclamation, and grain transportation. Localities could be better defended by creating militias, especially on the dangerous frontiers. His policies also brought about a new peace treaty with the Liao in 1042 and one with the Xi Xia empire in 1044. Fan's reforms established inalienable lands called estates of equity to provide income for educational and other needs of clan members, thus enabling a charitable estate to hold property jointly for the benefit of all its members. Fan Zhongyan said, "An educated person should suffer before anyone else suffers and should enjoy only after everyone else has enjoyed."3 He recommended The Center of Harmony (Zhong Yong) as a Confucian classic and helped catalog the library along with historian Ouyang Xiu, who suggested adding as a classic Higher Education (Da Xue). Ouyang defended Fan from his critics by arguing that a political faction could be good. This idea was denounced by conservative Confucians, who prevented political parties from developing in China. Ouyang was put in charge of compiling the New Tang History, which was completed in 1060. He lamented the split between politics and culture since the era of pure conversation; he believed that politics without culture lacks soul and is corrupted, while culture without politics loses touch with reality and is superficial.
In 1047 army officer Wangzi led a revolt of Buddhists expecting Maitreya; they took over the city of Beizhou in Hebei before they were crushed. Buddhism was becoming corrupted by selling certification of monks as an alternative to passing an examination on the scriptures. In 1067 the Song government made the sale of such certificates official policy. Powerful families appropriated temples as merit cloisters, but in 1109 a decree stopped this for officially recognized temples, and four years later the merit cloisters lost their tax exemptions. The prestigious title Master of the Purple Robe was also sold, and by 1129 it was estimated that annual sales of such Buddhist titles were up to about five thousand.
The booming money economy is indicated by the statistic that the Song government in 1065 was taking in twenty times as much cash annually as it did at the height of Tang power in 749. Rice yields were doubled in the 11th century when a new strain from Champa (Vietnam) produced two or three crops per year. Tea cultivation grew, and in the 12th century cotton began supplementing hemp and silk for clothing. Technical advances were made in the traditional industries of silk, lacquer, and porcelain as trade increased. In 1078 Song China produced 114,000 tons of cast iron. (England produced 68,000 in 1788.) As urban population and the number of wealthy people increased, importation of luxuries such as incense, gems, ivory, coral, rhinoceros horns, ebony, and sandalwood caused a deficit paid in precious metals. Business calculations were facilitated by using the abacus.
The Chinese also invented gunpowder and used it militarily as early as 904. They began experimenting with explosive devices, and primitive mortars date from 1132. Chinese shipping in well designed junks using the compass pioneered sailing and water-tight compartments, and a navy was developed. The status of women declined as men took additional wives or concubines, and the atrocity of foot-binding began crippling girls for life. Prostitution was common in urban areas; those with musical training were called "sing-song girls," others simply "flowers." The city of Hangzhou tried to prohibit male prostitution with a decree in 1111, but apparently the effort only lasted six years.
The Chinese had been printing with blocks on paper for centuries when they began using moveable type made of wood, porcelain, and copper about 1030. In the middle of the 10th century the nine classics were printed at Kaifeng and in Sichuan, where at Chengdu the entire Buddhist canon was engraved on 130,000 two-page blocks and printed between 972 and 983. Sima Guang (1018-86) wrote an immense chronicle of China's history from 403 BC to 959 CE called The Comprehensive Mirror for Aid in Government, which Yuan Shu (1131-1205) revised into a smoother narrative and to which Zhu Xi (1130-1200) made moral judgments as to which governments' claims to the mandate of heaven were legitimate.
Reform began when Emperor Shenzong (r.1068-85) appointed poet Wang Anshi (1021-86) prime minister. Wang's new laws and regulations brought drastic changes. Farmers suffering outrageous usury received "green shoots loans" from the government at 20% interest at the time of planting that was paid back after the harvest. Traders were given loans at state pawnshops. The money economy was stimulated by increasing the supply of currency, and prices were stabilized by government agencies buying and selling commercial products at a profit. Land tax was cut in half and was progressively based on its size and productivity. The hated compulsory labor demanded from peasants was converted into a reasonable tax. Large government projects reclaimed wasteland and improved irrigation and flood control, and other such projects were encouraged with government loans. The government hired workers to reduce unemployment. Subsidizing a horse on each farm was intended to improve the army, which lacked a cavalry to match the northerners. Villages were made responsible for organizing militias, as the regular army was reduced. Wang Anshi instituted the famous baojia system that organized households into tens (bao) and hundreds (jia) so that they could maintain order and report crimes with collective responsibility.
Wang Anshi also established an imperial public school system and specialized training in practical professions such as the military, law, and medicine as well as in the Confucian classics. During the Song dynasty education spread to more people as scholars became teachers in even the smallest villages. Merit promotion and better pay attempted to improve bureaucratic performance. The state began to take on social welfare functions previously provided by Buddhist monasteries, instituting public orphanages, hospitals, dispensaries, hospices, cemeteries, and reserve granaries. Buddhism gave women a professional role as nuns, although their rules treated the nuns as inferior to the monks. Family clans also took care of their own with the estates of equity, and improved literacy helped them follow Confucian traditions. The radical reforms naturally met with resistance from powerful landowners, merchants, and moneylenders whose opportunities for exploitation were diminished, the most opposition coming from the conservative north. Disruptions in implementation brought criticism from orthodox bureaucrats and others objecting to government regulation from the top. Factionalism sabotaged the administration of the programs. In 1074 a famine was made worse because farmers were forced to borrow money they could not pay back. After the drought Wang Anshi was dismissed in 1076. He was recalled four years later; but he was forced out again when his policies were reversed in 1085.
Perhaps the best example of a Song renaissance man is Su Shi (Su Dongpo 1037-1101). Lin Yutang in his biography, The Gay Genius, described Su Shi as among other things a humanitarian, painter, calligrapher, wine-maker, engineer, imperial secretary, judge, political dissenter, and poet. In 1070 and the next year Su Shi wrote two long letters to the Emperor. He criticized Wang Anshi for claiming to make government loans to farmers without interest while collecting twenty percent. He asked the Emperor not to use force, which since history began has never been able to suppress the people. Banning officials causes more protest, and he asked how extreme punishments can prevent rebellion. He complained that Wang Anshi arbitrarily fired censors who criticized his policies and replaced them with two disreputable characters. The ruler's power depends on the support of the people in their hearts. When freedom of speech is destroyed, the best people are silenced. Censors need to be given freedom and responsibility. Su Shi's protesting the bringing back of mutilation as a punishment may have prevented that. In his official position Su Shi announced the subject for local examinations in 1071 as "On Dictatorship," angering Wang Anshi.
Su Shi escaped punishment this time, but eight years later he was charged by censors with slandering the government with his poetry. He was arrested and tried at court, and they argued over the interpretation of his poems; but the emperor only sent him into exile in Huangzhou with a low rank. Su Shi urged the building of dams, instituted prison physicians, forgave debts, and worked on famine relief, collecting and feeding famine orphans. He was the first we know of who protested the custom of drowning girl babies at birth. He organized a charitable foundation that collected money to give to parents who would promise to keep their children. In 1083 he wrote a letter to the chief magistrate of Uozhou, where poor farmers tended to raise only two sons and one daughter, drowning additional babies; the result was more males and many bachelors in that region. He observed that because of parental love if the babies were saved for a few days, the parents would even refuse to give them away for adoption. He urged the official to enforce the law that imposed two years' hard labor on anyone who killed a descendant, hoping that this would be a warning and stop the horrible custom.
Wang Anshi died within a year of Emperor Shenzong, and the Empress Dowager, acting as regent for the young successor Zhezong (r. 1086-1100), rescinded most of the reforms. When she died in 1093, Zhezong tried to reinstate the reforms; but once again tax evasion by powerful landowners put the burden on the poor. Complaints by Su Shi caused him to be demoted and exiled again along with more than thirty high officials. As factionalism from nepotism caused corruption and cheating on examinations, artistic Emperor Huizong (r. 1100-25) spent money on more schools, irrigation, land reclamation, Daoist temples, the arts, and a lavish palace garden while confiscating art objects throughout the empire. Such demands for "rare flowers and stones" in 1120 caused Fang La to lead a revolt with hundreds of thousands of followers that captured Hangzhou; but two years later the rebellion was crushed by imperial forces relying on foreign troops, as two million people were killed. Prime minister Cai Jing and the eunuch military commissioner, Tong Guan, kept Emperor Huizong ignorant of uprisings as long as they could. Song Jiang led a small band of rebels that held out at Liang-shan in Shandong for two years and later became the basis for the popular novel, Outlaws of the Marsh.
In 1120 Tong Guan secretly negotiated with envoys of the Jurchens in order to destroy the Liao. Unable to capture the Liao's southern capital, the Song asked the Jurchen for help, allowing them south of the Great Wall. With victory over the Liao achieved, the Song wanted their old provinces back; but the Jurchen, calling themselves Jin, were unhappy with the broken treaty of 1123, though they inaugurated the examination system that year. The next year the Xi Xia agreed to be the vassal of the Jin, who also captured the last Liao emperor Tianzo in 1125, reducing him to a prince. Then the Jin besieged Kaifeng, and Song Huizong abdicated to his son, who became Qinzong. In 1126 Tong Guan was executed, and Cai Jing was banished and assassinated. Qinzong sued for peace, but he and the capital were captured by the Jurchen army in 1127.
Qinzong's brother Gaozong (r. 1127-62) became the first emperor of the southern Song dynasty south of the Huai River. He had criticized the use of eunuchs in court positions. When he did not immediately eliminate the influence of eunuchs in his court, in February 1129 a cabal forced him to abdicate to his infant son. Dozens of rival courtiers and eunuchs were executed, but in April military leaders from around the country came and restored Gaozong, ousting the conspirators. On the 26th of January 1130 Gaozong escaped from the Jurchen army by boarding a ship. On the same day Prince Zongbi and the Jurchens captured Hangzhou. The Song emperor returned to the mainland in June but stayed at Shaoxing until 1133. The next year General Yue Fei led a daring attack against the puppet regime of Qi that had occupied territory north of the Yangzi. A peasant uprising led by Yang Yao killed and plundered while trying to implement the revolution advocated by Zhong Xiang, who wanted to pass a law making the rich and poor equal. The rebellion was suppressed by Yue Fei's army by 1135, and he incorporated 50,000 of the rebels into his "Yue family army." That year Gaozong established a court at Hangzhou, which he renamed Linan, meaning temporary safety.
While Emperor Gaozong was negotiating a peace treaty with the Jin empire in 1140, Yue came to Hangzhou to protest. In 1142 Gaozong agreed to be a vassal of the Jin and pay an annual tribute of 300,000 taels of silver and an equal number of bolts of silk. Two generals accepted retirement on pensions, but Yu Fei was arrested for insubordination and was poisoned by Chief Councilor Qin Gui. Many considered Yu Fei a patriotic hero, and his grandson Yue Ke labored to give him an honored place in history. Putting back into cultivation the rice fields south of the Huai River ruined in the war profited the wealthy who had the capital to invest. Qin Gui (1090-1155) replenished the imperial treasury by increasing taxes; but as the Jin broke the treaty, continual wars pushed up prices and taxes. During the failed Jin invasion of 1161, Xin Qiji (1140-1207) defected to the Song with a thousand troops. He stayed in southern China and became an outstanding poet. In 1162 Gaozong abdicated so that his stepson could become Emperor Xiaozong, but he remained as his advisor at court until he died in 1187.
In 1164 internal strife in the Jin government enabled the Song to gain equal status and reduce the tribute. Xiaozong was grieved by his father's death and abdicated in 1189; he died five years later. His son Guangzong (r. 1190-94) was so mentally disturbed that he did not even give his father a funeral. He was forced to abdicate in favor of his grandson Ningzong (r. 1195-1224). Zhao Ruyu gained influence and appointed the Neo-Confucian philosopher Zhu Xi to a high position, but Han Tuozhou, who was criticized for making nepotistic appointments, replaced Zhao as chief councilor in 1195 and accused Zhu Xi of "false learning." Han banned Zhu Xi's Neo-Confucian doctrines and compelled examination candidates to renounce that school. Zhu Xi was driven from the court in 1196 and died in 1200, but he was restored to his official rank and awarded honors in 1202. As the scholars became martyrs, Han rescinded his order. He tried to win bureaucratic support by going to war against the Jurchens' Jin empire in 1206 even though deputy war minister Yeshi refused to draft the declaration. The Song army of 160,000 men met 135,000 Jin forces along the Huai River. In heavy rain most of the Song soldiers deserted. Though weakened by Mongol attacks and flooding as the Yellow River changed its course, the Jurchens defeated the Song army, discrediting the ungentle approach of Han Tuozhou. In Sichuan governor-general Wuxi defected with his 70,000 soldiers, but some loyal officers murdered him in 1207. The next year the Song agreed to a treaty with the Jin but had to pay more tribute and send them the head of Han Tuozhou in a box. Chief Councilor Shi Miyuan (1164-1233) had Han secretly assassinated in order to comply.
Shi Miyuan developed more subtle methods and appointed some followers of Zhu Xi. He succeeded in choosing as the next emperor the younger heir Lizong (r. 1225-64), who indulged in pleasures concealed from the public, as did his successor Duzong (r. 1265-74). Jia Sidao (1213-75) became chief councilor in 1259 and was criticized by Confucian historians. He dismissed incompetent ministers, bureaucrats, and army officers, making generals accountable for misappropriating funds. In 1263 the government began buying for a low price one-third of the largest estates, using the money for the army in the crisis and to institute a system of public fields for landless farmers. Threatened by Mongols who honored Confucius and in 1237 reinstituted civil service exams in north China, the southern Song dynasty made Zhu Xi's writings the orthodox doctrine of the state. Even though he attempted to defend the middle kingdom from the Mongol invasion, Jia Sidao was blamed for the defeats even by those who had defected to the enemy. He was banished in 1274 and was murdered by a local official.
The gentle and scholarly Song dynasty had lasted more than three centuries, but a bloated bureaucracy supported by high taxes gradually caused decline. Misconduct, corruption, and tax evasion put too much of the burden on the poor, though this had been alleviated for a long time by the prosperous urban areas. Few rebellions occurred in this peaceful state, as the military life was devalued and left to the "worthless," a point made indelible by branding the face of Song soldiers. Such an army was no match for the Mongols, who recruited many Chinese. The capital at Linan fell in 1276, and the three young children of Duzong were named as emperors in the last three years of the Song dynasty, which ended when the Mongols destroyed their naval fleet off Guangzhou (Canton) in 1279.
Influenced by Daoism, Zhou Dunyi (1017-73) commented on the Yi Jing (Book of Changes) and explained the cosmic diagram of the great ultimate in a new way according to Confucian philosophy that emphasizes ethics. Superior people cultivate moral qualities and enjoy good fortune, while the inferior violate them and suffer. Following The Center of Harmony (Zhong Yong), Zhou Dunyi believed the foundation of a sage comes from cheng, which means sincerity, honesty, integrity, and authenticity. From this integrity he derived the five traditional Confucian virtues of humanity, justice, propriety, wisdom, and faithfulness. Humanity is loving; justice is doing what is right; propriety is putting things in order; wisdom is penetrating; and faithfulness is abiding by one's commitments. Zhou Dunyi explained that in human nature are strength and weakness, good and evil, and the mean (center).
Justice, uprightness, decisiveness, strictness, and firmness of action
are examples of strength that is good,
and fierceness, narrow-mindedness, and violence
are examples of strength that is evil.
Kindness, mildness, and humility are examples of weakness that is good,
and softness, indecision, and perverseness
are examples of weakness that is evil.
Only the mean brings harmony.
The mean is the principle of regularity,
the universally recognized law of morality,
and is that to which the sage is devoted.
Therefore the sage institutes education so as to enable
people to transform their evil by themselves,
to arrive at the mean and to rest there.
Therefore those who are the first to be enlightened should instruct those
who are slower in attaining enlightenment,
and the ignorant should seek help from those who understand.
Thus the way of teachers is established.
As the way of teachers is established, there will be many good people.
With many good people, the government will be correct
and the empire will be in order.4
Thus when a sage governs the empire, everything is cultivated by humanity, and all people are set right with justice. Governing an extensive empire with millions of people begins with purifying the heart. The pure in heart do not violate humanity, justice, propriety, and wisdom. The virtuous and talented will be attracted to the pure, and with their help the empire can be well governed. Zhou Dunyi also recommended appropriate ceremonies and music for harmony.
To be impartial toward others one must first be impartial toward oneself. The most valuable things in the world are moral principles and virtue, but these cannot be attained without the help of teachers and friends. At birth humans are ignorant, and they remain stupid if they have no teachers or friends to help them. Zhou Dunyi complained that people have faults, but they do not like others to correct them. He thought it lamentable that, like one hiding illness and avoiding a physician, people would rather destroy their lives than awake. Better people consider moral principles honor and peace in themselves wealth. Integrity leads to action, change, and transformation, and the way of the sage is absolutely impartial. Having no desires in peace leads to emptiness and enlightenment, while in movement it leads to straightforwardness, impartiality, and universality.
Zhang Zai (1020-77) returned to Confucian classics after years of studying Daoism and Buddhism. His teachings were encapsulated in "The Western Inscription" on the wall of his lecture hall. He began this by declaring heaven his father and earth his mother, as he regarded the universe as his body and what directs it as his nature with all people his brothers and sisters and all things his companions. He recommended treating elders with deep respect and showing deep love toward the young, orphans, and the weak. The sage identifies with heaven and earth, and to disobey violates virtue. Those who destroy humanity are robbers. One knowing the principles of transformation, putting moral nature into practice, and penetrating spirit skillfully carries forward its will. Do nothing shameful to dishonor your family. While believing that wealth, honor, blessing, and benefits enriched his life, Zhang Zai found that poverty, humble action, and sorrow helped him to fulfillment. In life he served and followed, and in death he expected to be at peace.
Zhang Zai's major work is called Correcting Youthful Ignorance (Zheng-meng). He too emphasized integrity. One's nature is the source of all things but not one's private possession. The great know and practice it, sharing knowledge with all and loving universally. Such a one achieving something wants others to achieve too. Those fully developing their nature may realize they possess nothing in life and lose nothing at death. "Those who understand the higher things return to the principle of heaven (nature), while those who understand lower things follow human desires."5 The sage differentiates what is one's concern and does not worry about the natural operation of destiny (mandate of heaven). Yet by assisting heaven productions may be brought to perfection. Those who understand virtue will have sufficient physical things and will not allow sensual desires to burden their mind, the small to injure the great, or the secondary to destroy the fundamental. One's true nature is never insincere or disrespectful, and so he concluded that those who act in these ways do not know their nature. Sincere people obey principle and find advantages, whereas the insincere disobey principle and meet harm. The wise regard everything in the world as their own self, for nothing is outside of vast heaven. Thus the mind that leaves something out cannot unite itself with the mind of heaven.
The brothers Cheng Hao (1032-85) and Cheng Yi (1033-1107) both studied with Zhou Dunyi and became important Neo-Confucian philosophers. Cheng Hao gained prominence helping to avert a famine by saving the dikes, and for three years he was a popular magistrate; but he opposed the reforms of Wang Anshi, was demoted, and later dismissed. More idealistic than his brother, Cheng Hao based the other four virtues on humanity, which he believed is preserved by integrity and seriousness (jing). The feelings of sages are in accord with all creation, and they have no feelings of their own. Thus the better person is trained by becoming broad and impartial in order to respond spontaneously to whatever comes. Most people's nature is obscured in some aspect so they cannot follow the Way, usually because of selfishness. The selfish cannot take purposive action in response to things. Anger is a difficult emotion to control; but if one can forget anger and look at the right and wrong of the matter according to principle, one will see that the external temptation need not be hated. Original nature is like clear water; but humans must make vigorous efforts at purification, because evil often clouds the water.
Cheng Hao believed that investigating principle, developing one's nature, and fulfilling destiny can be accomplished simultaneously. The student does not need to look far away but to search seriously within oneself to understand the principle of humanity. Selfishness causes people to belittle others; but if they could view all people in the same way, what joy there would be! Cheng Hao admired Zhou Dunyi for not cutting the grass outside his window, because he felt toward the grass as he felt toward himself. Cheng Hao summarized humanity as implying impartiality, justice as a standard for weighing what is proper, propriety as distinguishing differences, wisdom as knowing, and faithfulness as confidence. Both brothers agreed that seriousness is straightening one's internal life, while justice is squaring one's external life. For Hao every human mind possesses knowledge; but when it is obscured by human desires, the principle of heaven is forgotten. Along with humanity he valued altruism, which puts oneself in the position of others. He criticized the Buddhists for being devoted to their own selfishness.
Cheng Yi briefly served as director of education in the western capital in 1087, but censors criticized him so much he soon resigned. He was banished ten years later, and in 1103 his teachings were prohibited; three years later he was pardoned, but the ban lasted for a half century. Cheng Yi emphasized the extension of knowledge as the key to self-cultivation. He warned against the reckless feelings of pleasure, anger, sorrow, joy, love, hate, and desire which must be controlled according to the center, as one rectifies one's mind and nourishes nature. The virtues must be practiced with such determination that they will never leave one's heart even in moments of haste so that one will act according to them in difficult times. Like Socrates, Cheng Yi believed that those claiming to know evil and still doing it do not have true knowledge.
When knowledge is profound, action will be thorough.
No one ever knows without being able to act.
If one knows without being able to act, the knowledge is superficial.6
Desires lead people away from the principle of heaven (nature); without desires there will be no delusion. Love is the function of humanity, and it is applied in altruism. Being serious is to be unselfish; but lacking it allows thousands of desires to arise and injure one's humanity. Understanding principle enables one to know the mandate of heaven, which can only be changed by a virtuous person.
Cheng Yi recommended several ways one may investigate moral principles such as reading books, discussing people and events of the past and present, and handling affairs so as to settle them correctly. Knowledge about moral nature does not come from seeing or hearing; first a student must learn to doubt. Humanity is universal impartiality and the foundation of goodness. Principle is one and is inherent in all things, but things are managed by moral principles.
In the 12th century the more idealistic school of Neo-Confucianism was best represented by Lu Xiangshan (1139-93) who debated Zhu Xi. In a lecture comparing justice to profit Lu Xiangshan moved his audience to tears. He castigated Buddhists for withdrawing from the world out of desire for profit and selfishness, while he believed Confucians were public-spirited in working to put the world in order. He found moral principles inherent in the human mind and believed they could not be wiped out; but they are clouded by material desires which pervert principles, because people do not think. Self-examination and intelligent thought can awaken the sense of right and wrong. In addition to self-examination he emphasized genuine and personal concern, correcting one's mistakes, and reforming to do good. He noted that the universe never separates itself from humans; but humans separate themselves from the universe.
Zhu Xi (1130-1200) as a young man left the capital because he opposed the humiliating peace terms with the northern invaders. Declining official positions, he devoted himself to study until 1179 when he was appointed a prefect. However, he was demoted three years later for criticizing the incompetence of various officials. Later he served for a time as a prefect in his native Fujian. Zhu Xi was responsible for editing and grouping the four books of the Analects of Confucius, Mencius, The Center of Harmony , and Higher Education. With his and Cheng Yi's commentaries on them and the five older classics they became the basis for civil service examinations in 1313 until the exams were abolished in 1905. His extensive writings were collected in 36 volumes. In 1195 Neo-Confucian teachings were proscribed, and a censor accused Zhu Xi of ten crimes, mostly for "false learning." When he died, several thousand people attended his funeral, and he was honored posthumously with the title for culture.
Zhu Xi defined humanity as the character of the human mind and the principle of love. This virtue he believed embraced justice, propriety, and wisdom. He posited an invariably good principle before physical form existed; but after physical form exists, good and evil become mixed and confused. Deviating from the center results in evil. He defined seriousness (reverence) as the mind being its own master, enabling it to be tranquil and understand the principle of heaven (nature). If selfish human desires win though, this principle is destroyed. If one can forget anger and examine right and wrong according to principle, desires will be unable to persist. Zhu Xi valued both knowledge and action, considering knowledge prior but action more important. Moral principles are inexhaustible; the more we go into them, the more we discover. Principle can be investigated by reading books and handling affairs.
For Zhu Xi the virtues of humanity, justice, propriety, and wisdom enable people to have the feelings of empathy, shame, deference and compliance, and right and wrong. He distinguished the relative good and evil of the world from the transcendent and absolute quality of the original nature. The Way is everywhere, but it is found by returning to the self and is discovered within one's true nature and function. Because we possess the cardinal virtues, we know that others do too. The mind by using its inherent moral principle is master of the body. By eliminating the obstructions of selfish desires, the mind will be pure and clear and able to know all. Then the principle of heaven (nature) freely operates as humanity. Its principles are love and impartiality. Zhu Xi defined the great ultimate as the principle of the highest good that is in everyone and expresses all the virtues. Cheng Hao said that the wise have no mind of their own, because the mind of heaven and earth is in all things; they have no feelings of their own, because their feelings are in accord with all creation. Zhu Xi noted that when a person receives this mind of heaven and earth, then it becomes the human mind.
Zhu Xi wrote the manual Family Rituals that influenced social customs such as initiation into adulthood, weddings, funerals, and other ceremonies. He has been criticized for restricting the roles of women and the young. Zhu Xi emphasized the importance of correct human relationships, and he believed that learning is the main goal in human life.
Zhu Xi put together an anthology of Neo-Confucian teachings called Reflections on Things at Hand, in which he commented on the writings of Zhou Dunyi, the Cheng brothers, and Zhang Zai. Cheng Yi wrote that only the humane person can be free from aggressiveness, pride, resentment, and greed, although others with these defects may be able to suppress them and not practice them, a difficult task. Zhu Xi gave the following analogy:
To master oneself is like capturing a thief in the house.
If one kills the thief, there will be no more trouble.
But if one has aggressiveness, pride, resentment, and greed
and merely suppresses them so that they cannot be expressed,
it is like locking up the thief in the house
so that he cannot go out to commit any crime.
After all, he is still hidden there.7
Cheng Hao noted that controlling anger and fear are difficult. Anger can be controlled by mastering oneself, and fear can be controlled by understanding principle. Cheng Yi wrote that one should criticize one's own mistakes but should not retain the sense of guilt in the mind forever.
Cheng Yi has been criticized by many scholars for taking a hard line on widows remarrying, which he considered a lack of integrity. Even when asked if they could remarry when they are all alone and poor with no one they can depend on, he wrote that they should starve to death, which he considered a small matter compared to losing one's integrity. This harsh statement reflects the Neo-Confucians' intolerance regarding women. In governing, Cheng Yi suggested first priority should be given to making up the mind (decisiveness), delegating responsibility, and finding virtuous men to take responsibility. In being decisive he warned against following too rigidly the advice of those nearby or being fooled by public opinion; rather one should take responsibility oneself, rely on the teachings of the wise, and consider the practical measures of the ancient kings. Sincerely treating others is practicing the golden rule of doing to them what one would want others to do to oneself. The ruler should extend humanity so that the people of the empire are benefited by his kindness. But to show off small kindness while violating principles in order to solicit praise, hoping to gain associates, is a narrow way that may not succeed.
Cheng Yi warned against individuals manipulating for themselves. The world was united in one mind when farmers, artisans, and merchants were diligent and lived simply; but lately people turn their minds to glory, and millions compete for wealth and extravagance. How can the world fail to become chaotic when there is such confusion? Cheng Yi recommended education as a way to stop robbery. People with desires will be moved to act. For the uneducated driven by hunger and cold even harsh punishments applied daily will not overcome the desires of millions of people for gain. When people are well educated to practice their occupations and understand the principles of integrity and shame, they will not steal even if they are rewarded for it.
Zhang Zai pointed out that the wise employed military strategy and army regulations with great reluctance. He recommended bringing back the punishment of mutilation as a substitute for the death penalty in some cases. The Neo-Confucians did not always emphasize the control of feelings. Cheng Hao wrote that the way to govern the people is to enable them to express their feelings, and the way to manage officials is to make oneself correct so as to influence people. Having synthesized some of the mystical elements from Daoism and Buddhism with the educational and humane ethics of the Confucians, this Neo-Confucian philosophy, after a short period of being eclipsed by the Mongols' affinity with Buddhism, would dominate Chinese culture until the 20th century.
The value the Chinese placed on literature is well expressed by Lu Ji (261-303) in his "Poetic Exposition on Literature" (Wen fu).
The functioning of literature lies in its being
The means for all principles of nature.
It spreads thousands of miles and nothing can bar it;
It passes millions of years, is a ford across.
Ahead it grants models to ages coming,
Retrospectively contemplates images of old.
It succors the old kings' Way, on the verge of collapse;
It makes reputation known, does not let it be lost.
No path lies so far it cannot be included;
No principle so subtle it cannot be woven in.
Peer of clouds and rain with its nurturing moisture,
Divinity's semblance in its transformations.
When it covers metal and stone, virtue is spread;
Through strings and flutes flowing, it is daily made new.9
Poetry was so popular in Tang China that candidates for the civil service had to submit poems they wrote. In 1707 a complete collection of Tang dynasty poetry published 48,900 poems. For the most part Chinese poetry expresses an esthetic appreciation of nature and life that is often a retreat from social and ethical issues. Wang Bo (648-76) was dismissed from the Historical Department for satirizing the imperial princes' indulgence in cock-fighting. The Buddhist Wang Wei (c. 699-761) believed he brought forward his ability as a painter from a previous life, but in this age he turned out to be a writer. Wang Wei's poems describe a simple life in nature, as this one called "Villa on Zhongnan Mountain."
In my middle years I came to much love the Way
and late made my home by South Mountain's edge.
When the mood comes upon me, I go off alone,
and have glorious moments all to myself.
I walk to the point where a stream ends,
and sitting, watch when the clouds rise.
By chance I meet old men in the woods;
we laugh and chat, no fixed time to turn home.10
The most acclaimed of Chinese poets are the wine-loving Li Bo (701-62) and his friend Du Fu (712-70). Li Bo failed his examination but told how he was called to court to translate a Korean letter, claiming the terrifying reply he wrote caused them to continue their tribute. Both poets barely eked out a living with their voluminous poetry. Li Bo referred to his reclusive life in "Dialogue in the Mountains."
You ask me why it is|
I lodge in sapphire hills;
I laugh and do not answer -
the heart is at peace.
Peach blossoms and flowing water
go off, fading away afar,
and there is another world
that is not of mortal men.11
Li Bo was said to have drowned while drunkenly embracing the reflection of the moon in water.
Du Fu's poetry lamented that young men are drafted into war and are slain like dogs; yet he was saved from poverty when a general made him his secretary. In "Out to the Frontier" he described the experience of a soldier as cheerless. Officers have strict schedules, and deserters are enmeshed in trouble. The soldier asks what anguish or rage can remain when a true man swears to serve the realm. While famous deeds are depicted in the royal gallery, bones turn to dust on the battlefield. A long march brought him to the Grand Army; when he saw Turkish riders, he realized he had become a slave. The soldier gives this advice:
To shoot a man, first shoot the horse,
to capture the foe, first capture their chief.
Yet there are limits to killing men,
and a realm is secured by natural bounds.
If only we can check their raids -
it is not how many we wound and kill.12
He wonders when they will return from building the Wall. In battle this soldier hides as one of the company, doing small deeds and ashamed to speak like others. Yet he asks if a true man is concerned with all the world, how can he refuse to hold fast in hardship. In old age Du Fu gave up wine as a Buddhist for many years but then died the day after a drunken feast. His 8th-century contemporary Li Hua wrote a lamentation at an ancient battlefield, suggesting that because the peaceful influence of culture has failed to spread, military officials have applied their own irregular solutions opposed to fellow feeling and right. Yet Li Hua concluded that imperial virtue must be spread to the barbarians.
Meng Jiao (751-814) wrote a brief poem warning against both violence and sex.
Keep away from sharp swords,
Don't go near a lovely woman.
A sharp sword too close will wound your hand,
Woman's beauty too close will wound your life.
The danger of the road is not in the distance,
Ten yards is far enough to break a wheel.
The peril of love is not in loving too often,
A single evening can leave its wound in the soul.13
Li Ho (791-817) suggested that if it had passions, even heaven would grow old. Wang Jian (756-835), noting that in the past soldiers got one year's leave out of three, complained that in the current war they have to fight until they are dead. The poet Lu Dong was executed in 835 for being involved in the Ganlu rebellion.
Bo Juyi (772-846) managed to balance writing many volumes of poetry with occasional government service. While a scholar at the Hanlin Academy he wrote to his friend Li Jian how wonderful it was they talked the other day and never spoke of profit or fame. Bo Juyi criticized war with his poem about an old man with a broken arm who as a young soldier smashed his arm with a huge stone so that he could not handle a bow. He compared his joy of being alive with those who were dead. Even while at court Bo Juyi asked the common question whether the hermit enjoying the green grass had not chosen the better part when a counselor in one day can go from a high-salaried position to banishment. After being banished in 814 Bo Juyi wrote three years later:
This year there is war in Anhui,
In every place soldiers are rushing to arms.
Men of learning have been summoned to the Council Board;
Men of action are marching to the battle-line.
Only I, who have no talents at all,
Am left in the mountains to play
with the pebbles of the stream.14
Yet Bo Juyi went on to become governor of Hangzhou, Suzhou, and from Chang'an Honan. When he left Hangzhou, elders lined the road and wept even though he said his taxes were heavy; people were poor, and farmers were hungry and often had dry fields; but he had dammed the water in the lake and helped a little when things were bad. Bo Juyi recommended a fortunate and secure half-hermit life between the embittered hunger and cold of the humble and the worries and cares of the great.
Wen Tianxiang (1236-83) refused to give up his allegiance to the Song emperor to serve Khubilai Khan; he asked to die and was executed. While in prison he wrote a poem that begins by recognizing there is an aura which permeates everything in the universe. In humans it is called spirit, and in times of peace it is not noticed because harmony prevails; but in a great crisis it becomes manifest. Liu Yin (1241-93) resigned his office to care for his sick mother. He wrote that heaven gave humans the resources they need to cope with the exigencies of the environment. He quoted Zhu Xi who said that when heaven is about to send down a calamity, a heroic genius is raised up to handle the situation. Every human has a use, and there is no society that humans cannot correct. A Buddhist priest of this era noted that if one is human, the mills of heaven grind one to perfection; but if not, to destruction.
Early Chinese fiction often was concerned with the supernatural. In the late 8th century Shen Jiji, who served briefly as Imperial Censor, wrote about a beautiful woman who turned out to be a fox that ran away. Poet Yuan Zhen's story of disappointed romance called "The Golden Oriole" was later dramatized by Wang Shifu in The Romance of the Western Chamber. Although the Golden Oriole believes that Zhang's vow to her has been broken, she swears to keep her oath to him. Years later though, both have married other people; she would not see him, and in his final poem Zhang advises her to love the man before her. Li Gongzo told "A Lifetime In a Dream" about a man whose political career turns out to have been spent in an ant colony while dreaming.
Liu Zongyuan (773-819) wrote a parable of a pack beetle that continues to put loads on its back until it can no longer move. It also likes to climb to high places but falls to the ground and dies. He compares this creature to people of his time who never seem to have enough possessions no matter how much they are encumbered by them and who seek higher positions even though a perilous fall is bound to ensue.
Poet Bo Juyi's brother Bo Xingqian wrote a romantic story of a man's drastic changes of fortune in "The Lady in the Capital." After Miss Li and her aunt run out on a young man whose money is spent, she later finds him destitute and helps him because "as we have cheated heaven and done harm to human beings, no spirit and no god will come to our aid."15
In the late 8th century a story named after the clever woman Red Thread has her stealthily penetrate the chamber of the governor about to attack her friend's province; removing a golden casket it is sent back to him, causing him to send gifts and renew good relations. Red Thread explains that she is making up for a former life in which as a man she was a physician who accidentally poisoned a woman pregnant with twins. Punished as a humble woman, she has now prevented an offense against the heavenly order. In the same era Xu Tang's story of "Two Friends" shows the value Chinese often placed on loyal friendship, as two men make difficult sacrifices to help each other in trying circumstances.
"The Forsaken Mistress" by Jiang Fang is another story of a woman betrayed by a man's false promise. Little Jade is afraid that when her beauty fades, Mr. Li's favors will wander elsewhere despite his protestations. Like many young men in China, Li is dominated by his mother and accepts an arranged marriage. When he fails to return to her at the promised time, Little Jade becomes ill. Educated people are revolted by Li's base heartlessness. Little Jade dies; but her spirit haunts Li and makes him jealous of his wife, causing him to divorce her and confine two more wives cruelly.
The murder mystery "Beheaded In Error" is from the Song dynasty collection Popular Tales of the Capital. This story shows the harmful consequences that can result from careless words. Wei Bengzhu after excelling in the examinations has a promising career ruined when he jokingly writes his wife he has taken a concubine. She writes back with a similar jest, and the spreading rumors prevent him from gaining a good position. In poverty he borrows money from his father-in-law to start a grocery store, but he kids his concubine that he has pawned her for that money. When she leaves him, the open gate allows a robber to come in to find the money; after a fight he kills Wei with an ax. When the concubine is found with a man carrying the same amount of money, circumstantial evidence causes a lazy judge to torture the concubine and that man until they confess, the serious ethical violation that causes the worst part of the tragedy. The innocent couple is executed, but later Wei's widow is robbed by the ax murderer. After making friends with him to survive and living with him, he becomes respectable and confesses the crime she then identifies. The bandit is beheaded; the offending magistrate is dismissed; the families of the innocent victims are given pensions; and the widow spends the rest of her life chanting sutras to the spirits of the dead.
In "The Scholar and the Courtesan" by Qin Chun of the 12th century Zhang is persuaded to marry another woman by his mother; but when his wife dies after three years, this story ends happily with his marrying his sweetheart and having many children. "The Whore with the Pure Heart" describes how an orphan put into a house of prostitution manages to put off the sexual attentions of Emperor Huizong (r. 1100-25) himself.
1. Wang Xiong, Lun Heng 67 in A Short History of
Chinese Philosophy by Fung Yu-lan, p. 210.
2. Hou Han shu 98.7b in Chinese Civilization and Bureaucracy by Etienne Balazs, tr. H. M. Wright, p. 194.
3. Li, Dun J., The Ageless Chinese, p. 225.
4. Penetrating the Book of Changes Ch. 7 by Zhou Dunyi, in A Sourcebook in Chinese Philosophy tr. Wing-tsit Chan, p. 468-469.
5. Zheng-meng 2:34 in Wing-tsit Chan, A Sourcebook in Chinese Philosophy, p. 509.
6. A Sourcebook in Chinese Philosophy tr. Wing-tsit Chan, p. 558.
7. Chu Tzu yu-lei, 44:3b by Zhu Xi in Reflections on Things at Hand tr. Wing-tsit Chan, p. 160.
8. The Ageless Chinese by Dun J. Li, p. 255.
9. Anthology of Chinese Literature tr. Stephen Owen, p. 342-343.
10. Ibid., p. 390.
11. Ibid., p. 403.
12. Ibid., p. 474.
13. "Impromptu" by Meng Jiao, tr. A. C. Graham, Poems of the Late T'ang, p. 67.
14. "Visiting the Hsi-lin Temple" by Bo Juyi, tr. Arthur Waley, Translations from the Chinese, p. 204.
15. The Golden Casket tr. C. Levenson, W. Bauer, and H. Franke, p. 131.
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