BECK index

Shang, Zhou and the Classics

Shang Dynasty
Zhou Dynasty
Yi Jing (Book of Changes)
Shi Jing (Book of Odes)
Li (Propriety)
Shu Jing (Book of Documents)
Spring and Autumn Era
Sun-zi's Art of War
Period of Warring States

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Prehistoric Cultures

Sanderson Beck's videos on this chapter can be seen below.

For three millennia beginning about 5,000 BC the Yangshao culture flourished in China wearing clothes made from hemp and living in partially underground houses designed to protect these peasant farmers from winter winds and summer heat or in the south on houses built on piles by a lake. Plows were used in 4000 BC, and by 3500 BC millet was grown widely in the northern plains of China. Fishing was a main activity, and domesticated pigs, fowl, and later cattle, sheep, and goats were eaten. In the south rice was developing. Stylized fish and animals decorated some of the burnished pottery.

Silk was manufactured about 2600 BC, and in the 24th century BC the Longshan culture began using a wheel to make thin-walled black pottery. Like the Yangshao these people lived mostly in pit houses in villages that encircled a central longhouse, but their towns were larger and more permanent. Graves were supplied with richer objects such as carved jade and pottery. The divinatory practice of scapulimancy began, which studied the cracks that appeared on baked bones as an oracle to predict the future and confer guidance. The first writing was probably the inscriptions made on these bones, showing the question and perhaps the answer. The character for the word "book" was discovered on these bones, indicating not only the existence of shamans but perhaps scribes as well. Grain was milled in China about 2200 BC.

Traditional Chinese history gives the dates 2205-1766 BC for the Xia (Hsia) dynasty, but the writing about it comes from the Zhou (Chou) dynasty in the first millennium BC. The word xia meant summer and was depicted as flourishing trees. Since ecologists have determined that in the Neolithic times the northern plain of China was covered with forests, which later were obliterated by human destruction, we could infer that Xia times were remembered as a richer environment. The deforestation may have been a factor in the social degeneration that allowed a more warlike Shang culture to replace the Longshan, whose late use of arrowheads, spears, daggers, and clubs foreshadowed the conflicts that were to worsen with the Shang warriors, who dominated China for three-quarters of a millennium until their overthrow by the Zhou dynasty in the eleventh century BC.

Shang Dynasty

According to the history Shang-shu and the Shi Jing (Ching), the ancient Book of Odes, the Xia were overthrown by Shang king Tang the Successful. The Shang developed the use of bronze to a fine art, beginning with fish hooks, bells, pins, and projectile points and developing into an industry to produce these items and axes for the elite who could afford them. The social stratification led to kings and nobles, who conscripted common people for military service and public construction projects. Buildings made of pounded-earth walls rose as high as nine meters. These ceremonial centers were surrounded by thousands of pit houses, shops, animal pens, and storage pits. Superstitious kings even went so far as to have their bodies buried with horses and other humans, who must have been sacrificed.

The traditional dates of the Shang dynasty are 1766-1122 BC, but recent scholarship suggests this culture lasted nearly five hundred years and was overthrown by the Zhou dynasty about the middle of the eleventh century BC. The Shang were centered around the Yellow River and moved their capital many times, though it was near modern Anyang for more than 250 years after it was moved there by the powerful ruler Pan Geng in 1384 BC.

Primarily agricultural and disliking dairy products, the ancient Chinese did eat pigs, cattle, sheep, chicken, and dogs. (This is not quite as bad as it sounds, since their dogs probably did not eat meat.) Hunting provided fur coats for the cold winters. Hemp was also cultivated for clothing, which seems to have been well sewn with sleeves. Shang religion was based on the worship of ancestral spirits and the supreme God, Shang Di. Major decisions were made in the ancestral temple and were assisted by divination, interpreting the cracks made when tortoise shells and bones were baked in fire. The king headed a feudal system in which he could call upon other nobles for help in fighting against barbarians and invaders. Shang culture was extremely patriarchal and traditional, since the oldest were closest to the ancestors, though inferior to them. A woman could become a powerful matriarch if she was the oldest survivor of her generation in a powerful family. A king might have more than one wife but usually did not. Oracle bones reveal one king with three wives, two with two wives, and twenty-six with only one wife.

Shang development of bronze technology and artistry H. G. Creel considered superior to that of the Italian renaissance. Metal weapons and chariots with horses did give knights an advantage, but the power of their bows was such that the arrows could easily penetrate their leather armor. Thus aristocrats were not invulnerable in war, enabling common soldiers to overthrow their leaders if things got too bad for them. Archery, as the main skill involved in war and hunting, became the most popular sport in contests along with charioteering. Cities were walled, and armies numbered in the thousands. In the thirteenth century BC King Wu Ding fought several wars over pasture lands, and large water projects had to be protected. They traded so extensively that the name for merchant is based on the term Shang ren meaning Shang man or person. Cowrie shells from the sea were used as money, and royal tombs contained their wealth along with the sacrifices of humans, horses, and dogs.

Their writing, which has been found on oracle bones and bronzes, began with pictograms, developed ideograms, and used phonograms. The Chinese language as well as Chinese culture developed directly from the Shang. Writing on the oracle bones indicates that the main things they wanted to know about were sacrifices, announcements to the spirits, diplomatic banquets, traveling, hunting and fishing, war, crops, weather, illness, and the coming ten-day week. The character for evil depicts a snake attacking the foot of a person. Clearly the purpose of the oracles was to avoid danger and calamity by pleasing God and the ancestral spirits.

Human sacrifice was practiced by the Shang as indicated by the character for sacrifice, which shows a person's head being chopped off. The numbers sacrificed do not seem to be large except in the case of the Giang, who were killed in greater numbers because they appear to have been sheepherders interfering with Shang cattle grazing. The practice of human sacrifice naturally decreased in the Zhou era. Nevertheless it was clear that in Shang society, a king or lord had the power of life or death over those under him. Slavery, usually from those captured in war, was also common. The word for servant indicates the cultural evolution. At first captives were counted as heads and depicted as an eye. This character then came to mean a slave, a servant, a retainer, and eventually a minister of state. Thus as writing developed and became more influential, literate advisors to the king gained more power. When the Shang were overthrown by the Zhou in the eleventh century BC, the Giang tribe supported the Zhou revolt.

Zhou Dynasty

In the eleventh century BC the Zhou house became strong in the west by conquest and alliances with nearby states. Wen Wang, whose mother was a Shang princess, took over much territory to the north and south of the Shang kingdom. When the Shang were weakened by battles with nomads in the north and natives to the east, Wen Wang's son, Wu Wang, crossed the Yellow River and marched his army against the Shang. According to Zhou histories the time was not right yet, but two years later he returned and, with the capitulation of the Shang vanguard, took over the Shang capital. Di Xin, the last Shang king immolated himself in his favorite pleasure pavilion, but his son was allowed to rule a subject state. Wu Wang also soon died, but his brother, the famous Duke of Zhou (Zhou Gong), completed the conquest for Wu's son while acting as regent. Two of his brothers, however, joined the Shang prince in a revolt, which was crushed by Zhou Gong after three years of fighting all over China. A Zhou capital was constructed along the Yellow River near what is now Luoyang in Henan to control dozens of feudal states in the east, though the main capital remained in the western Wei valley. The Shang capital was destroyed, but their culture was allowed to survive; the Shang family continued to offer sacrifices to their ancestors until 286 BC in the state of Song.

These feudal states were essentially walled cities that protected, controlled, and exploited their peasant populations. Nobles were allowed to rule over their territories in exchange for tribute and help in fighting wars. Though they followed the traditional Shang religion, the Zhou developed the concept of heaven (tian) as a guiding force which supported those who ruled virtuously and abandoned those who did not. The king was known as the son of heaven. Patriarchal families were the basis of power and relationship, politically as well as personally, and whole families were often held responsible for the actions of their individual members.

The first two centuries of the Zhou dynasty were fairly peaceful within their realms, though wars were often fought with nomads on the perimeters to expand the kingdom. In 1002 BC the fourth Zhou king, Zhao, did not return from such an expedition to the Yangzi River. A tyrannical king named Li Wang, who ruled from 878 to 841 BC, departed from virtue by hiring a sorcerer to point out those criticizing him so that he could have them killed. The king bragged of how the slandering of him had stopped because the people had become even afraid to talk; but the Duke of Shao pointed out that he had merely dammed it up, which could be as dangerous as preventing the flow of water. Three years later King Li was expelled by the nobles, who chose two of their own to rule until the crown prince was installed. The use of writing and record-keeping was already so extensive in China that after this event in 841 BC dates are generally considered to be accurate. Incursions from the north occurred during the 45-year reign of Xuan that began in 827 BC.

In 771 BC King Yu was killed by invading barbarians, and the resulting split between two courts led to the acceptance of the eastern capital as primary, marking the beginning of the Eastern Zhou period. The practice of concubines was still common, and women were expected to be subservient. Although peasants might choose their own mates, the marriages of the aristocrats were usually arranged by the powerful older generation of the family. For three months before she was presented to her husband's ancestral spirits, the wife was on trial and could be returned to her family. A man could divorce his wife for as little reason as her talking too much. Extended families tended to live together under the authority of the patriarch and the matriarch. The duty of filial piety was paramount. The Zhou patriarch Wen Wang opposed the use of alcohol except in the ceremonies, as the fall of the Shang dynasty was attributed to excessive drinking.

The ruler's ancestral temple was the most important building, where diplomatic banquets were held and from which military expeditions began. Thus religion and the state were combined. The use of writing was so extensive in ancient China that for about three thousand years until the 18th century CE the number of books in Chinese was greater than all the other books in the world. By the time of Confucius in the sixth century BC there were already six classics:

1) Yi Jing (Book of Changes), the classic of philosophy,
2) Shi Jing (Book of Odes), the classic of poetry,
3) Yi Li (Ceremonial Etiquette), the classic of propriety,
4) Shu Jing (Book of Documents), the classic of history,
5) Chun Qiu (Spring and Autumn Annals), a chronicle of Lu,
6) a classic of music lost by the time of the Han dynasty.

These supplemented by the Zuo Zhuan, a commentary on the Spring and Autumn Annals, Sun-zi's Art of War, Zhan Guo Ce (Intrigues of the Warring States), and Sima Qian's Shi Chi will reveal much of the ethics of the ancient Zhou ways. From the sixth to the third centuries several outstanding philosophers had immense influence on the entire history of Chinese culture. Confucianism will be discussed in the life and works of Confucius, Mencius, and Xun-zi. Daoism is revealed in the works of Lao-zi, Zhuang-zi, and Lie-zi. Mo-zi founded his own religion, and the legalism of Han Fei-zi greatly influenced the forming of the Qin empire. The short-lived Qin dynasty and the first part of the Han dynasty are extensively portrayed in the writings of the great historian Sima Qian.

Spring and Autumn Era

Yi Jing (Book of Changes)

The legendary creator of what came to be the Yi Jing is said to be Fu Xi, who is associated with hunting and fishing and the invention of cooking. The eight trigrams using the dual principles of yang and yin are surely quite ancient. References are also made to early versions in the Xia and Shang dynasties, but the main authorship of the 64 hexagrams is credited to King Wen (who was supposed to have written the judgments while imprisoned by the last Shang king) and to his son, the Duke of Zhou, who originated the readings for the changing lines. This oracle does seem to have replaced the bones and tortoise shells used by the Shang, and it is surmised that the primitive line combinations are derived from attempts to read the cracks on the oracle bones. Often called the Changes of Zhou (Zhou I), it was primarily a Zhou book.

Computers are based on this simple system of constant choices between two principles. The yang is represented by a solid line and relates to the male, light, creative, heaven, firm, active, and so on. The yin is shown as a broken line and refers to the female, dark, receptive, earth, yielding, passive, etc. A line obviously has two possibilities, a double line four, a trigram eight, and the doubled trigram or hexagram sixty-four. The process of change is created by a three-step process of determining each line by adding yin 2s and yang 3s, resulting in a yang 7, a yin 8, a yang 9 or a yin 6, the last two being so strongly yang or yin that they will change into their opposites, yielding a new hexagram.

The ancient way of consulting the oracle used fifty yarrow sticks, separating them into two piles, and pulling them out by fours. Later for convenience three coins could be tossed six times. However, the process with the yarrow sticks contains a bias toward changing yang lines or 9s, because the first 2 or 3 in each line has a three in four chance of being a 3. Thus the chance of getting a changing yang line is three times greater than getting a changing yin line, but this is more than balanced toward yin, because 8s are more likely than sevens and because the nines change into yin lines, resulting in a second hexagram with more chances for yin lines than for yang. Though changes are more likely to be made by the male principle, in the ancient Chinese way of using the oracle, the eventual results favor the female principle.

One of the oldest books in China, the Yi Jing was used for centuries and studied by Confucius, who is credited with writing the commentaries, though much of these were probably written by his followers. The Shuo Gua, which discusses the eight trigrams, is quite ancient though. It begins,

In ancient times the holy sages made the Book of Changes thus:

They invented the yarrow-stalk oracle
in order to lend aid in a mysterious way to the light of the gods.
To heaven they assigned the number three
and to earth the number two;
from these they computed the other numbers.

They contemplated the changes in the dark and the light
and established the hexagrams in accordance with them.
They brought about movements in the firm and the yielding,
and thus produced the individual lines.

They put themselves in accord with the way and its power,
and in conformity with this laid down the order of what is right.
By thinking through the order of the outer world to the end,
and by exploring the law of their nature to the deepest core,
they arrived at an understanding of fate.1

The text goes on to say that they determined the way of heaven is dark and light, the way of earth yielding and firm, and the human way loving and just. The first two lines represent the earth, the middle two humans, and the top two heaven. The trigrams correlate with the eight directions, the seasons, the family of father, mother, three sons, and three daughters, and so on.

Though in Chinese cosmology the five elements are fire, earth, water, wood, and metal, the trigrams are based on the four elements found in most ancient cultures representing energy, solid, gas, and liquid as fire, earth, air (wind), and water along with the four related forms of thunder, the mountain, heaven, and the lake. Heaven is creative, earth receptive, thunder arousing, wind gentle, fire clinging or clear, water abysmal or dangerous, the mountain still, and the lake joyous. The first three lines represent the inner and the top three the outer. Once light and dark have been created, there may be good and bad fortune, remorse and humiliation, but no blame means that one is in a position to correct one's mistakes.

Not necessarily fatalistic, the book is designed to offer counsel for different situations so that people may control more wisely their own destinies by understanding circumstances better. Ultimately one may go back to the beginnings of things and pursue them to their ends, understanding birth and death. The union of seed and power produces everything, but the escape of the soul brings about change. Thus the conditions of outgoing and returning spirits may be known. By resembling heaven and earth people do not have to be in conflict with them. Through wisdom one may bring order to the world, be active and not carried away by fate nor worried. Being content with circumstances one may be genuine in kindness and so practice love. Consulting the Yi Jing, one may observe before speaking and discuss before moving, thus perfecting the changes and transformations. Through words and actions the superior person moves heaven and earth. The Da Zhuan (Great Treatise) also states that sages fasted "in order to make their natures divinely clear."2

The commentary on the first hexagram, the creative, states that superior people can govern because they embody love, can unite people through propriety because they bring about the harmonious cooperation of all that is beautiful, can bring them harmony through justice because they further all beings, and can carry out all actions because they persevere and are firm. Here the Confucian influence is clearly seen. Also the superior person learns to gather material and sort it out through questioning in order to become generous and kind. The character of the great is in accord with heaven and earth. The arrogant know how to press forward but not how to draw back, know existence but not annihilation. Only the holy know both without losing their true nature.

The commentary on the second hexagram draws on Daoist ideas about the use of the feminine yin, which is the way of the earth, the wife, and the one who serves. One should serve the king as the dark possesses beauty but veils it, not claiming the completed work though bringing it about vicariously. When heaven and earth are creating in change and transformation, the capable withdraw into the dark. When the eminent subordinate themselves to those below, they win the hearts of the people. The sixth line reading of the hexagram Youthful Folly offers the warning not to commit transgressions while punishing; it is better to prevent transgressions so that both those above and below conform to order.

The sequence of the cosmology is from heaven and earth to individual things to the two sexes to the relationships of husband and wife, then father and son, prince and servant, and superior and inferior based on the rules of propriety. Heaven and earth stimulate each other, and the holy stimulate the hearts of the people so that the world can attain peace. There are other Chinese oracles and cosmologies, but the Yi Jing is by far the oldest and most influential. Its reflections on various situations represent the beginning of philosophy in China.

Shi Jing (Book of Odes)

The Book of Odes is the oldest poetry to influence later generations in China. Though some of them may be older, most of the poems are thought to have been composed in the eighth or seventh centuries BC. They are often quoted in the works of Confucius. Many are love songs of courtship and marriage. In one a young man promises to love her forever. In another a young woman asks her lover not to break the willows nor climb over the wall, not because she doesn't love him, but because she is afraid of what her parents, brothers, and people will say. Another fears being seduced and abandoned. A third has run away from her family, and the metaphor of rain and a rainbow implies that she is pregnant; the poet doubted that the man will fulfill his promises, because he "is bent on high connections."3

Usually marriage is arranged by talking with her parents, but "without a match-maker he cannot get her."4 The double standard of sex can be found in China, as a woman warned ladies not to take their pleasure with men, though a man taking his pleasure may be condoned. She complained that she suffered three years of poverty with him and never neglected her work, but he was the one who altered his ways and was unfaithful. First he took to finding fault with her, and then he became rough with her. Her brothers have disowned her and laughed at her, but thinking it over calmly she takes responsibility for bringing it all upon herself.

The poems on war include this complaint:

Minister of War,
We are the king's claws and fangs.
Why should you roll us on from misery to misery,
Giving us no place to stop in or take rest?

Minister of War,
We are the king's claws and teeth.
Why should you roll us from misery to misery,
Giving us no place to come to and stay?

Minister of War,
Truly you are not wise.
Why should you roll us from misery to misery?
We have mothers who lack food.5

Another poem describes how the people are ordered by the king to bring out their carts. The king's services bring them hardships and no time to rest, but they fear the writing on the tablets. Once the enemy's chiefs have been captured and bound as criminals, they can return home again. Several poems celebrated the Zhou revolutionary defeat of the Shang dynasty and the exploits of King Wen, King Wu, and the Duke of Zhou, who is credited with showing compassion to the people.

Many poems express a religious faith that God or the spirits will reward good behavior. Others call forth blessings and ask for increase and abundance for all. Blessings are secured by following the old ways without malice or hate. Inward spiritual power is linked to one's ancestor spirits. The fall of the Shang dynasty is used as a warning that one should never shame one's ancestors, or one will bring ruin upon oneself. King Wen is offered as an example, who asked why should the violent Shang men be in office and in power, they who support slanders, brigands and thieves. He declared that resentment is building up against them so that none backs them anymore. The Shang are flushed with wine and disorderly in manners, and they do not follow the old ways. Even if they have no wise men, at least they could follow their own laws; but they do not listen to heaven's great charge. Even the Shang had a mirror in history in the Xia dynasty which they had overthrown.

In feasting warnings are given against drinking too much and carousing. When people are drunk, they don't know what blunders they commit. Drinking wine may be fortunate if it is done with decency, but after three cups one no longer knows what one is saying. Aristocrats are asked to set good examples for the common people to follow, but a man without dignity, poise, and manners is better off dead. Dignified manners help power, but nothing is as strong as goodness. One taking counsel widely, far-seeing in plans, timely in announcing them, and using proper decorum becomes a pattern for the people.

But a poet complained that today's rulers have brought confusion into government with wild drinking orgies and dissipation. The ruler ought to pay attention to the views of commoners as well as gentlemen and be cautious in speaking because it is easier to polish scratched jade than take back a slip of the tongue. One should not be rash in words because secrets are not often kept. The prince is counseled not to usurp nor go beyond his rights. The wise listen to the ancient sayings and follow the way of inner power, but the fool says he has a right to his own ideas. The poet then speaks to his son, who appears to him heedless of his advice; he is a grandfather and should know. If the son does not take his advice, his people will be reduced to extremities; for heaven is sending calamities and destroying the country.

Other poets also lamented that the young do not pay attention to their fathers and mothers nor the disorders of the land. Slanders replace advice and are increasing. Those who speak of caution are considered disloyal. One complained that there is no land that is not the king's, and no one who is not the king's slave. Another poet suggested not escorting the big chariot and thinking about the sorrows of the world, or one will only be loaded with care and despair. A third poet warned against going too close to the king, because the one who reproves him will be slaughtered by him. These poems became a textbook for many generations, and diplomats were expected at least to be aware of their content if not able to quote from them to make their points.

Li (Propriety)

Several books were used at different times as the classic on propriety, ritual, and etiquette. The oldest is the Yi Li, which means ceremonial etiquette. After the burning of the books by the Qin dynasty in 213 BC, the text was recited from memory by Gao Tang. Other portions of the ancient text were found when the house of Confucius was torn down by Emperor Jing in the middle of the second century BC. The scholar Cheng Kandcheng in the second century CE combined these two to reconstruct the book. Another similar book on rituals was the Zhou Li, and eventually the Confucian Li Ji became the classic of propriety.

The Yi Li gives detailed instructions for formal behavior and manners in regard to the capping of an officer's son (initiation into manhood), marriage of an officer and visits of officers, banquets, archery contests, missions to other states, audience with the king, and extensive instructions for mourning and funeral arrangements. Precedent is considered quite important, and one is often instructed to refuse at first before accepting an honor. One of the four directions is often specified, and there is much bowing and descriptions of simple tasks like pouring wine and offering food. When an officer visits another, he is told what to discuss and even where to direct his gaze.

In speaking with the Prince, one talks of one's official business;
with an official, of one's service of his Prince;
with older men, of the control of children;
with young people, of their filial and brotherly duties;
with the common man, of geniality and goodness;
with those in minor offices, of loyalty and sincerity.

In speaking to an official, one begins by looking him in the face
to gauge one's chances of a favorable reception;
towards the middle of an interview one looks at his breast
as an indication of one's trust in him
and also respect, indicated by the lowering of the eyes;
and at the end of the interview one's eyes are again
directed to his face, to see how he is impressed.
The order is never changed, and is used in all cases.

In the case of a father, the son's eyes are allowed to wander,
but not higher than the face, so as not to seem too proud,
nor lower than the girdle.

If one is not speaking, then,
when the other is standing, one looks at his feet,
and, if he sits, at his knees, in sign of humility.6

The importance placed on so many details of manners meant that tradition and education became essential in order for one to be accepted in this social world. They probably stabilized behavior and made change difficult, though it did allow anyone to rise to a higher social status if one got the proper education.

Shu Jing (Book of Documents)

The collection of ancient documents that became the classic of history for the Chinese was well known to Confucius, Mencius, and Xun-zi. The Shu Jing we have was put together in the early Han dynasty after the burning of the books when scholars such as Fu Sheng wrote down in a more modern script what they remembered. Then ancient documents were found in the wall of the Confucius house and elsewhere, and the ancient script was added, though later scholars questioned its authenticity, saying that it was forged from various quotes of ancient authors. Either way most of it seems to be based on very ancient material.

The Shu Jing begins with the Canon of Yao, a sacred writing about the most ancient Chinese ruler. Yao is described as being naturally reverential, intelligent, accomplished, and thoughtful. He governed so well that all the people became brightly intelligent, and even the black-haired people were transformed. Yao was said to have lived for 99 years and ruled for seventy until the middle of the twenty-third century BC, when he appointed Shun as his successor, because Shun had overcome bad parents with his filial piety and led them to self-government.

The Canon of Shun describes how Shun encouraged men of virtue and talent, listened to the views of all, tried not to oppress the helpless nor neglect the poor, as only a di could do. Di can mean God or ruler or both. Shun mitigated the cruel punishments of branding, mutilation, castration, and death with fines, exile, and death only for repeated and presumptuous transgressions. Shun is advised by Yi to observe the laws, employ men of worth, use the light of reason, not to go against what is right to win praise from people nor oppose the people's wishes to follow his own desires. Shun is commended by Gaoyao, his Minister of Crime, for presiding with generous forbearance, not punishing the heirs of criminals nor inadvertent and doubtful crimes. Rather than execute an innocent person, he would rather risk irregularity and error.

Near the end of Shun's thirty-year rule, he recognized the ability of Yu and declared that heaven had appointed him his successor. All his advisors agreed, and the decision was confirmed by divination. When the people of Miao rebelled, Yi counseled Yu to use virtue, because pride brings loss but humility increase. Just as Shun had transformed his parents with virtue, Yu drew back his troops and implemented the virtues of peace; after seventy days the lord of the Miao came to terms. The Counsels of Gaoyao for Yu contain a description of the following nine virtues:

Affability combined with dignity;
mildness combined with firmness;
bluntness combined with respectfulness;
aptness for government combined with reverent caution;
docility combined with boldness;
straightforwardness combined with gentleness;
an easy negligence combined with discrimination
boldness combined with sincerity;
and valor combined with justice.7

Yu believed that Gaoyao's words may be put into practice and will be crowned with success.

Yao had appointed Yu the Earl of Xia; thus when he began the tradition of hereditary succession, the Xia dynasty was born and lasted for almost five hundred years before it was overthrown by the Shang. The first book on the Xia dynasty describes the rivers and soil of the various provinces and Yu's labors to regulate the waters and prevent floods. In the second book the king (probably Yu's son) threatened his soldiers on the verge of a battle that if they did not obey his orders, not only would they be killed but their children as well. Thus already the limitations of hereditary rule are seen in comparison with choosing leaders based on ability and virtue.

Tai Kang was considered so lifeless because he went out to hunt so much that his five brothers complained he allowed the country to fall into ruin, and so they revolted against him. In the other book on the Xia dynasty one of these brothers was attempting to bring order by punishing bad ministers, though he claimed he would not punish those who were forced to follow them, as he led his soldiers into battle.

The Shang dynasty traced its lineage to Xieh, who was appointed Minister of Instruction by Shun. Fourteen generations later there arose Tang, who became the founding king of the new dynasty. In his speech Tang declared that the many crimes of the Xia sovereign had caused heaven to turn against him. Jieh, the last Xia king, had exhausted the people and oppressed the cities; the people no longer felt bound to serve him. Tang claimed to be the one appointed by heaven to punish him. When Tang banished Jieh, he felt ashamed and had his minister explain that heaven provides a person of intelligence to govern when the previous ruler is no longer virtuous. The able and right-principled are to be favored; the good have freedom; the weak are absorbed, and the willfully blind punished. Disorderly states going to ruin should be taken over by a virtuous ruler. Order comes from justice and propriety. Those who question and learn grow and come to dominion, but those who think themselves superior and listen to no one come to ruin. Then King Tang himself announced that the Xia tyrant had caused suffering and protest. The way of heaven blesses the good and makes the bad miserable. Thus Tang dealt with the Xia ruler as a criminal.

Tang was succeeded by his grandson, Tai Jia, who was warned by Yi Yin against the ten evil ways of constant dancing, drunken singing, extravagance with women, wealth, wandering, hunting, despising wise words, resisting the upright, ignoring the old and virtuous, and keeping the company of impudent youths. Finding the young sovereign disobedient, Yi Yin confined the king in a palace near his father's tomb for the traditional three years of mourning, after which the king returned sincerely virtuous. Yi Yin counseled him that people cherish those who are benevolent, and the spirits respond only to sincere sacrifices. An intelligent sovereign is careful whom he follows. Like his grandfather, Tai Jia should cultivate virtue so that he can be a friend of the supreme God. He must begin low to rise high and not slight the people's occupations; be as careful at the end as at the beginning. When hearing distasteful words, he must inquire if they are right; when hearing words that accord with his own views, he must inquire if they are contrary to what is right. Nothing can be attained without careful thought nor accomplished without diligent effort. The appointment of heaven can change if one is not constant in virtue. The Xia were overthrown, because they lost their virtue and oppressed the people.

The latter half of the Shang dynasty is referred to as the Yin dynasty. The twentieth Shang king, Wuding, dreamed that God gave him a good assistant, who would speak for him. Searching the kingdom with a picture, they found the builder Yue, and Wuding instructed Yueh how he could help him. Yue warned that the mouth can lead to shame and militarism to war. Before weapons are used, one should examine oneself. Good government, depending on good officers, offices should not be given to favorites but to the able and worthy. Careful thought before movement at the proper time is best, but the vanity of thinking one is good can lose the merit one's ability might produce. Shame for a mistake should not be perpetuated into a crime. Too many ceremonies bring disorder. The king thanked Yue, who replied that it is not the knowing that is difficult but the doing.

Finally the Shang dynasty deteriorated into drinking and disorder. The Count of Wei declared that the house of Yin could no longer rule, because their mad indulgence in spirits had destroyed their ancient virtue. The people, small and great, had taken to highway robbery, villainy, and treachery. Nobles and officers competed in violating the laws, and criminals were rarely apprehended. The common people rose up and committed violent outrages on one another. Yin was sinking into ruin.

Most of the thirty books of Zhou concern the beginnings of the Zhou dynasty. In the Great Declaration King Wu explained his reasons for taking up arms against the Shang king. The tyrant Shou was accused of not reverencing heaven, inflicting calamities and atrocities on the people, and abandoning himself to drink, lust, and luxury. Offices were hereditary, and his ministers had become as corrupt as he was and were fighting each other to extermination. Punishments had been extended to the relatives of the offenders. King Wu cited the example of how the first Shang ruler overthrew the corrupt Xia dynasty, because King Jieh had lost the mandate of heaven. Shou had treated badly and degraded his best officers. King Wu believed that he had been appointed by heaven to take over the government, because he was backed by virtuous men and the people. The ancients had said that the one who soothes them is their sovereign, while the one who oppresses them is their enemy.

King Wu also presented a Great Plan he claimed was given to the ancient Yu, which included the cosmology of the five elements of water, fire, wood, metal, and earth; the five personal matters of bodily demeanor, speech, seeing, hearing, and thinking; and the eight governmental objects of food, wealth, sacrifices, works, instruction, criminal justice, observances for guests, and the army. The sovereign ought to reward virtue and not oppress the friendless and childless nor fear the distinguished. Let competent ministers cultivate good conduct. Like heaven itself, the sovereign should not show partiality or selfishness. The three virtues include strong rule during violence and disorder, mild rule during harmony and order, and correct straightforwardness during peace and tranquillity.

A story of a metal-bound coffer tells how when King Wu was ill and dying the Duke of Zhou offered his own life to the spirits in his place, writing his prayer on a document and sealing it in the coffer. King Wu did recover, but the Duke of Zhou lived on also. Five years later King Wu died, and some suspected that the Duke of Zhou might try to take the throne. Actually the Duke of Zhou spent two years in the east fighting off rebellions. Wu's son, King Cheng, discovered the coffer and, moved to tears, invited the Duke of Zhou back to the court.

Having been allowed to live, many of the Shang nobility rebelled with some of the Zhou king's brothers. After this revolt was put down by the Duke of Zhou, King Cheng invited the Count of Wei to take over the Shang inheritance and rule in Song, because he had been degraded by the last king and refused to fight on either side out of both virtue and loyalty. In this way the Shang sacrifices and spiritual tradition were allowed to continue during the Zhou period. The early Zhou kings continually emphasized the importance of ruling by virtue. They followed the penal laws of King Wen and avoided using only terror and violence.

One announcement warned against drunkenness, which was blamed for the ruination of the Shang dynasty. King Wen recommended that spirits only be used on the occasion of sacrifices. Overseers were advised not to give way to violence and oppression but to show reverence for the friendless and find helping connections for women in need.

Early in the reign of King Cheng, the Duke of Shao and the Duke of Zhou arranged for the building of a new city in Luo, where many of the defeated Yin people had been removed. They advised the king to be aware that the favor of heaven is not certain but must be continually earned through the virtue of reverence. If the king avoids excessive violence and capital punishment, the people will imitate his virtue. The Yin people were encouraged to work hard and prosper and cease their disaffection. The Duke of Zhou claimed that heaven helped the Zhou and defeated the Yin, because heaven supports the virtuous and punishes wrong-doers.

The Duke of Zhou described this ethical philosophy of history in his advice to King Cheng when he retired from the court. He contrasted the long and successful reigns of the first three Shang kings to the shorter and worse terms of the later Yin rulers. He pointed to the model of King Wen, who dressed simply, worked in agriculture, and did not hunt excessively in contrast to the last Yin tyrant, who abandoned himself to drunkenness. Although his own brothers had rebelled against him with the Yin, the Duke of Zhou forgave the son of one of these rebels because he showed virtue and merited an office.

The six ministries of the early Zhou governments were to continue in China for about three thousand years. The Prime Minister presided over the management of the officers and secured uniformity in the kingdom. The Minister of Instruction was responsible for education in the states, diffusing knowledge of human obligations and training the military in obedience. The Minister of Religions presided over ceremonies and regulated religious services. The Minister of War oversaw the military forces and the security of the borders. The Minister of Crime enforced the laws by apprehending and punishing wrong-doers. The Minister of Works presided over the land, the four classes of people, and the proper seasons for farming.

The Duke of Zhou's influence lasted long after his death. Counselors recalled his advice that officers follow a middle course to punish those who are disobedient to government, remembering that the end of punishment is to end punishing. Here is some of his advice:

Do not cherish anger against the obstinate, and dislike them.
Seek not every quality in one individual.
You must have patience, and you will be successful;
have forbearance, and your virtue will be great.
Mark those who discharge their duties well,
and also mark those who do not do so.
Advance the good, to induce those who may not be so to follow.

The people are born good, and are changed by things,
so that they resist what their superiors command,
and follow what they love.
Do you but reverently observe the statutes,
and they will be found in virtue;
they will thus all be changed;
and truly advance to a great degree of excellence.8

In the last book of the Shu Jing Duke Mu of Qin in 631 BC forgave his three counselors, who impetuously had advised him to make a treacherous attack on Jin which failed and resulted in their capture. When they were returned for punishment by the Marquis of Jin, Duke Mu took responsibility himself for the defeat because he foolishly listened to their youthful counsel rather than his older and wiser advisors.

It is easy to see why the Shu Jing became a classic. This book of ancient historical documents was to have a tremendous influence on Chinese politics and philosophy, offering models of ethical behavior to rulers for centuries to come.

Spring and Autumn Era

Zhou Dynasty

The decline of the feudal system resulted from the rising influence of a growing educated class, which gained influence in government and commerce because of their ability. The word shi, which originally meant a knight, came to mean a literary person. States run by what later became a thriving bureaucracy gained power and consolidated themselves under monarchical government. As states began to tax individual landowners, peasants worked themselves free of their masters and practiced a labor-intensive agriculture for a mostly vegetarian diet. Millet was supplemented by wheat in the north and rice from the south, and soybeans helped to revive the soil.

The Chun Qiu , which means Spring and Autumn, summarizes important events by season and year from 722 to about 470 BC. Though the extant text is written from the viewpoint of Lu and is dated by its rulers, the events listed include all the civilized states of China. During this period a balance of power arose among the states of Qi, Qin, Jin, and Chu, although the small state of Zhou in the middle was still recognized as the nominal ruler of the Chinese world. Mencius claimed that Confucius composed the Spring and Autumn Annals and quoted Confucius as saying that he would be understood and condemned for it. However, it is unlikely that this dry chronicle of events was composed by the philosophical Confucius.

The work that describes the history of the Spring and Autumn era is the Zuo Zhuan (Commentary by Zuo on the Chun Qiu) . Much of this work seems to be early writing, though some comments and prophecies may have been put in as late as the middle of the fourth century BC. This book does describe events more fully and offer moral lessons and occasional comments, some by Confucius.

Followed by the Period of Warring States until the unification of China in 221 BC, these five centuries had almost constant wars. In 722 BC there were about 120 feudal states that acknowledged fealty to the Zhou king as the son of heaven. As the stronger states took over the weaker ones, by the end of the Spring and Autumn era there were only about 40 states. In the Period of Warring States these were reduced to seven, and in 221 the most of powerful of these, Qin, established the empire named after them we call China.

The feudal aristocracy eventually collapsed as ministers from powerful families enhanced their positions through warmaking. As war became less chivalrous, infantry and cavalry replaced knights fighting with chariots. Instead of calling on vassals like family members, taxes were used to raise armies. Tenant farmers could own their own land, but heavy taxes and usury led to consolidation of land-owning by the wealthy. As the powerful families fought with each other, they turned for help to the educated class of officials, who gained influence in increasingly bureaucratized administrations. Thus these were times of great change and social mobility, as aristocratic families were wiped out or banished to obscurity, and others with education or wealth earned in commerce or industry rose to great influence.

In 719 BC we find a high official of Lu advising his Duke that violence is not the way to gain the support of one's people. Commenting on Zhouxu, who rose to power in Wei by assassinating the previous duke, Guan Zhong said that by relying on cruelty and military force he has few followers and allies. Military force is like fire - if it is not kept in check, it may consume the user.

Guan Zhong was poor but was helped by his friend Bao Shuya. While the latter served one of the Duke's sons, Xiaobo, Guan Zhong served another son, Jiu, under Duke Xi of Qi (r. 730-698 BC). According to Han Fei-zi, Guan Zhong and Bao Shu agreed to recommend each other to whichever prince succeeded. When Duke Xiang (r. 697-686 BC) was killed in a civil war, Xiaobo became Duke Huan (r. 685-645 BC); Jiu was killed, and Guan Zhong was imprisoned. However, Duke Huan of Qi appointed Guan Zhong prime minister (even though Guan in supporting his brother had shot an arrow that hit his sash buckle in the struggle for power). Yet Bao Shuya stepped aside himself and recommended Guan Zhong to Duke Huan, saying Guan's ability could give the duke greater power. Though Bao worked under Guan, he was admired more because of his ability to appreciate men.

Duke Huan wanted to begin by strengthening his armed forces, but Guan Zhong recommended that he put his arms in storage, since for being on good terms with the feudal lords abroad and the people at home expending wealth on people is better than spending it on arms. In the second year Duke Huan went ahead with the production of arms anyway, and the year after that he wanted to attack Song; but Guan Zhong said that if the internal government is not strengthened, ventures abroad will not be successful. Duke Huan attacked Song anyway, and the feudal lords helped Song to defeat the troops of Qi. Continuing to defy Guan's advice, Duke Huan strengthened the armed forces and gave salaries to the brave; but Guan managed to keep the internal government in order secretly even while those contending for salaries were slashing each other to pieces and breaking necks. Next Duke Huan attacked Lu against Guan's advice. By 682 BC Qi had assembled 100,000 armored troops and 5,000 chariots, but Guan Zhong noted that there were other states just as powerful. Guan felt that since Qi was trying to use arms instead of moral force, the country was in danger. While the Duke of Lu threatened Duke Huan and himself with a sword, Guan Zhong suggested a compromise that was accepted.

After this, Duke Huan began to follow Guan Zhong's advice, which warned that a prince should not be greedy for territory or devote himself to the use of arms, because it distresses the people and makes deceit prevalent. Instead of attacking them, Duke Huan enfeoffed several small states. Finally Duke Huan agreed with Guan Zhong to strengthen the country, and he lightened taxes, relaxed customs restrictions, and regulated government levies and salaries. Next Guan suggested that he inquire after the sick and reward people rather than punish them. If he could do this for five years, the feudal lords would support him. After spreading around gifts abroad and domestically and getting capable men to manage relations with other states, Duke Huan's political control increased such that when the Di people attacked, the feudal lords all sent troops to help defeat the Di.

Duke Huan followed the counsel of Guan Zhong in encouraging the feudal lords to gather three years' provisions before strengthening their arms. His power was further advanced by offering to help militarily those who did this but still did not have enough armed forces. Finally Guan Zhong recommended that the relations between princes and ministers be harmonized by not setting up concubines as legal wives or killing their great ministers. Feudal lords were not to manipulate boundaries, hoard grain, nor prohibit the gathering of natural resources. Once these policies were established for at least a year, then punishments and rewards could be implemented. Instead of the death penalty and corporal punishment, criminals could redeem themselves by supplying arms.

As prime minister, Guan Zhong instituted many other reforms including state ownership of salt and iron. In an economic policy known as balancing the heavy and the light, he promoted commerce by standardizing weight scales and coins. Guan Zhong shared the people's likes and dislikes by giving them what they wanted and abolishing what they rejected. Sima Qian quotes from the book named Guan-zi.

When the granaries are full,
the people will understand social codes and moderation.
When their food and clothing are adequate,
they will understand honor and disgrace.
If the sovereign complies with the rules,
the six relationships will be secure.
If the four guidelines do not prevail,
the nation will perish.
The orders handed down like the source of a river
will be in accord with the hearts of the people.9

The six relationships are with father, mother, elder brother, younger brother, wife, and children, and the four guidelines or virtues are propriety, justice, integrity, and conscience. Guan also wrote, "Knowing that 'to give is to receive' is the most precious thing in governing."10 Confucius credited Guan Zhong with helping Duke Huan to bring unity and order to the entire realm, which they still enjoyed two centuries later. Were it not for Guan Zhong, Confucius admitted, they might be wearing their hair loose and folding their clothes like the barbarians.

Guan Zhong ordered the Lord of Yen to follow the governmental policies of the ancient Duke of Shao and insisted that Duke Huan keep his word in the convention of Ko. With his reforms and skillful diplomacy Guan helped Qi to become the most powerful state, and all of the feudal lords submitted to Qi. In 679 BC Duke Huan of Qi achieved the power and prestige known as ba (First Noble) and acted as the protector of state affairs for the Zhou king.

Until 591 BC this office of First Noble or protector was assumed by the most powerful of the rulers, who repelled invasions, punished the disobedient, arbitrated differences among the state rulers, received the revenues that before had gone to the king, and even settled disputes among the royal family.

When Guan Zhong was dying, Duke Huan asked what he should do after his wise counselor's death. Guan did not recommend his friend Bao Shuya to replace himself, because he was so inflexible in his hatred of evil that he could not forget a single deed to the end of his life. Then Guan suggested that the duke send away four men, who had ingratiated themselves into influence by denying their own children and families and one his own body by castration. Such men will not love him, he said. After Guan died, Duke Huan dismissed all four of them, but he then suffered a nervous breakdown and confusion in his court. So he restored the four men, but a year later they launched a coup against him; when the duke died in 645 BC, they did not even bury his body.

When the state of Jin was suffering a drought, Duke Mu of Qin refused to attack them, as one advisor had suggested, but sent them large shipments of grain. However, two years later when Qin was suffering a famine, Duke Yiwu of Jin, who had broken numerous promises, refused to ship grain to Qin but rather launched an attack against them in 645 BC. Duke Yiwu's chariot bogged down in the mud, and Duke Mu and his men tried to capture him but were surrounded by the Jin army. However, Duke Mu was saved by three hundred men he had earlier pardoned for eating one of his prize horses when they were starving at Mt. Qi. Though Jin's army was larger, they lost because the Qin fighters were more spirited, the Zuo Zhuan making the moral and psychological factors in warfare apparent. Duke Yiwu's advisor refused to rescue his duke caught in the mud, because he had neglected his advice.

Thus Duke Yiwu was captured and taken to Qin; but Duke Mu released him, because his wife, who was Yiwu's sister, and the Zhou sovereign requested it. He then made peace with Jin on the counsel that if he killed their ruler, hatred would be stored up. Abusing others is bad policy, doubling hatred and bringing about misfortune. When the Duke of Jin returned home, he had his advisor, who refused to flee, put to death for bringing about his defeat. Once again Duke Mu of Qin sent grain to Jin in their time of need, treating their people with kindness, hoping that a competent ruler would appear. In the end Qin did receive the land west of the Yellow River promised by Jin and began collecting taxes there.

When Yiwu died in 637 BC, his older brother Zhong Er (also called Duke Wen) returned from twenty years exile and with Duke Mu's help overcame Yiwu's son Yu to gain the rulership of Jin. In 632 BC he defeated the Chu at Chengbu, and he withdrew from Yuan (even though they were about to capitulate) in order to keep his word. Duke Wen of Jin was appointed ba or protector of the feudal rulers. The opposing general withdrew because of three military maxims - when facing an equal, retire; when difficulties lie ahead, withdraw; and a virtuous man cannot be opposed. When Duke Wen offered to restore the rulers of Cao and Wei, those rulers broke off their alliance with Chu. Though before he had tried to provoke an attack, now Duke Wen graciously withdrew when the Chu general attacked him, because Chu had showed him kindness in his exile. Finally victorious over Chu, Duke Wen called for an audience with the Zhou sovereign for which he was later criticized by the traditional Confucius.

How the chivalry in war was disappearing can be seen in an incident in which a Song official turned his halberd around to pull his opponent out of a well, after which the opponent killed him. The commentator declared that he had departed from propriety and disobeyed orders in saving his enemy and therefore deserved to die.

Filial piety is shown in the story of a starving man who is given food by Zhao Dun, but he packs up half of it to take it to his mother. Later the same man, while acting as one of the Duke's guards, turned his halberd against the other guards, who were going to kill Zhao Dun for criticizing his wicked ruler. Later the ruler was assassinated before Zhao Dun had crossed the border. So he returned but did not punish the assassin, although they did send for the legitimate successor. A historian wrote that Zhao Dun assassinated his ruler, and Confucius declared that Zhao Dun was a good official, who accepted a bad name for the sake of a principle.

The morality of the Zuo Zhuan is that attacking the rebellious is an act of punishment, and being gentle with the submissive is an act of virtue. Loyalty was also highly valued. One emissary who was caught agreed to be bribed in order to fulfill his mission even though he had to lie and break a promise to the bribers. Yet filial loyalty had its limits too. Wei Ko's father, when he became ill, asked him to see that his concubine was married; but when the illness became worse, he asked that she be killed and buried with him. The son followed the earlier orders when his father's mind was clearer, and he was later rewarded when he captured an old man in battle who appeared to him in a dream to tell him that he was the woman's father and was thanking him. Yet truthfulness was so valued by historians that three brothers were executed in succession for writing that a usurper had assassinated the duke; but when the fourth brother stepped forward, the murderer finally relented. Two years later the assassin and his family were killed by a fellow prime minister.

In 597 BC Jin was defeated by the armies of Chu king Zhuang, who was made protector. A major battle was fought between Qi and Jin in 589 BC. The incessant wars between Jin and Chu led Heang Seu of Song to go to Jin with a proposal for a comprehensive peace. He said, "War is destructive to the people, an insect that eats up the resources, and the greatest calamity of the small states."11 Arguing that if Jin did not accept the proposal, Chu would agree and draw all the states together, Jin agreed in order to keep the protectorship. Then he went to Chu, and they agreed also. Qi was reluctant to join but realized that it would disaffect the people if they refused to sanction the stopping of war. Heang Seu sent word to Qin, and they agreed. He notified all the smaller states and arranged a meeting at Song in 545 BC.

Jin and Chu, argued about which of them should have precedent but agreed to share the protectorship, although Qin and Qi were formally excepted because of their power and Chu and Tang because of their weakness. Otherwise all fourteen states agreed to the covenant of peace. Heang Seu asked for a reward for "arresting the cause of death" and was given sixty towns. However, Zihan, the Minister of Works, declared that it was the arms of Jin and Chu that kept the smaller states in awe. "Who can do away with the instruments of war?" he asked. "They have been long in requisition. It is by them that the lawless are kept in awe, and accomplished virtue is displayed."12 Denouncing the scheme as a delusion, he cut the document to pieces. Heang Seu consequently refused the towns, and his family wanted to attack Zihan; but Heang stopped them, saying he had been saved from ruin by him.

Nevertheless this agreement must have been effective for several years, because there were no wars for the next five years, only a battle with barbarians in the sixth year and no wars in the seventh and eighth years. This is by far the most peaceful part of the two and a half centuries of the Spring and Autumn era during which there was only one other time in which there were even two years in a row without a war.

During this lull, the ducal son of Wu made the following observations about music with their obvious implications for diplomacy and Chinese culture:

Direct but not overbearing, distant but not perfidious,
varied but not to excess, repetitive but not tiresomely so,
plaintive but not downcast, joyous but not unbridled,
employing but never depleting, expansive without being assertive,
doling out, yet not to a prodigal degree,
gathering in, yet not in a greedy manner,
resting without stagnating,
moving forward without becoming unduly facile.
The five notes are harmonized, the eight airs well balanced.
Movements that are measured,
restraints that are properly ordered -
these are qualities shared by all who abound in virtue.13

Likewise in the same peaceful period the Cheng prime minister Zichan disagreed with an official, who suggested they abolish the village schools, where they gathered to discuss government administration.

Why do that?
In the morning and evening when the people are at leisure
or have finished their work, they gather
to discuss the good and bad points of my administration.
The points they approve of I encourage,
and those they criticize I correct.
They are my teachers.
Why would I want to abolish them?
I have heard of wiping out resentment
by loyal service and good works,
but I have never heard of stopping it by force.
True, one can cut it off for a time.
But it is like damming up a river.
When there is a major break in the dikes,
many persons are bound to suffer.
If the people's resentment were to break out in the same way,
I would never be able to save the situation.
It is better to leave a little break in the dikes
for the water to drain off.
It is better that I hear the people's complaints
and make them my medicine.14

Zichan also advised Zipi not to put Yin Ho in charge of a city, because he is too young and inexperienced to handle this responsibility. One should learn before entering government, not enter government in order to learn.

Decisions made by the nobles during the feudal period were increasingly taken over by the rulers and ministers of the states, but laws were not promulgated in writing until the state of Zheng cast a criminal code in bronze in 536 BC. This formalizing of the law was protested by a Jin official as arbitrarily taking away from the judgment of superiors. When laws are exactly defined, he argued, people will lose respect for their superiors and in a contentious spirit try to get away with whatever does not violate the letter of the law. Such laws indicated the government has fallen into disorder. Punishments were used and could be severe, especially in military situations. In civil matters fines were often exacted, though great officers were rarely punished.

King Ling came to power in Chu by murdering his nephew and was never able to control his violent tendencies. Three of his younger brothers revolted, and he was replaced and died in 529 BC. He was not able to live up to the old saying quoted by Confucius, "To overcome oneself and return to propriety is the way of benevolence."15

Period of Warring States

Sun-zi's Art of War

According to the historian Sima Qian, Sun-zi was given an audience in the state of Wu. Having read the thirteen chapters of Sun-zi's Art of War, the king of Wu (r. 514-496 BC) invited him to demonstrate the drilling of troops with the king's concubines. Sun-zi explained the commands for marching, and the women all answered, "Yes, sir;" but when the drum signals were given, the women burst out laughing. Sun-zi realized that if the orders are not clear and the signals not familiar, the general is at fault. He repeated the signals several times, but the women responded by laughing again. Believing that when the signals are clear but not followed, the officers are at fault, Sun-zi ordered the left and right commanders (two of the king's favorite concubines) beheaded. The king sent a messenger to stop the executions, but Sun-zi disregarded the sovereign's command. After the two commanders were beheaded and replaced, the women obeyed the orders with serious precision. Not wanting to watch but impressed with Sun-zi's military ways, the king appointed him commander of his army.

Sima Qian reported that Sun-zi wrote The Art of War after having his feet amputated. This book on military strategy and tactics has been very influential throughout Chinese history and is still respected by military minds today. Though astute for a military context, it is typical of a war mentality. Sun-zi outlined the art of warmaking in relation to five factors he called moral law, heaven, earth, the commander, and method and discipline. However, his concept of moral law had been reduced to complete accord with the ruler so that soldiers will follow him in disregard of their own lives or danger. Heaven refers to weather and time factors. Earth is concerned with distances, terrain, and the chances of life and death. The virtues of a good commander are wisdom, sincerity, benevolence, courage, and strictness. Method and discipline include the divisions and ranks of the army, maintenance of roads and supplies, and military expenditures.

Sun-zi declared that all warfare is based on deception. Thus not only the value of life is disregarded but truthfulness as well. Calculations are made to assure that victory over the enemy is achieved. Sun-zi was extremely clever and observant of ways to take advantage of the enemy's situation. Nonetheless his goal was not to kill the enemy but to break the enemy's resistance without fighting if possible. Taking over the opponent's territory was preferable to destroying them. The general's first aim is to balk the enemy's plans, second to prevent the joining of their forces, third to attack them in the field, and the worst policy is to besiege a walled city. For Sun-zi knowledge of oneself and the enemy is what leads to victory. To know oneself and be ignorant of the enemy will result in defeats as well as victories, and to be ignorant of both will surely end in disaster. Spies were recommended to gain knowledge of the enemy's situation and plans.

Sun-zi said that the enlightened ruler plans ahead, and a good general cultivates his resources, controls his soldiers with authority, brings them together by good faith, and makes them useful with rewards. He clearly recommended careful discretion as well as valor in the following admonitions:

Move not unless you see an advantage;
use not your troops unless there is something to be gained;
fight not unless the position is critical.
No ruler should put troops into the field
merely to gratify his own spleen;
no general should fight a battle simply out of pique.
Anger may in time change to gladness;
vexation may be succeeded by content.
But a kingdom that has once been destroyed
can never come again into being;
nor can the dead ever be brought back to life.
Hence the enlightened ruler is heedful,
and the good general full of caution.
This is the way to keep a country at peace and an army intact.16

Thus Sun-zi offered intelligent advice for military commanders, but he never questioned the ethics of a system that uses violence and deceit to take advantage of other people's weaknesses. In 506 BC Wu invaded Chu, occupying its capital at Ying. The state of Wu was overlord to Yue in 494 BC and became the greatest military power in China by 482 BC and had connected the Yangzi to southern Shandong by canal; but merely nine years later they were destroyed and annexed by Yue, which became protector in 470 BC but was eventually taken over by Chu in 334 BC.

Period of Warring States

Our knowledge of the quarter of a millennium ending in 221 BC with the founding of the Qin empire comes mostly from the Chan Guo Ce (Intrigues of the Warring States) and Sima Qian's Shi Ji, which contains the earliest biographies. During this period wars became larger and worse as iron and even steel were used as weapons, and millions of peasants as infantry. The powerful crossbow cocked with the feet became the weapon of choice in the fifth century BC, and in the next century cavalry replaced chariots. Iron also enhanced industry and agriculture, and large irrigation projects led to increased population and the building of great cities.

Ministers could enhance their power and influence by recommending and winning wars with other states. These officials often went from one state to another and used their ability to persuade rulers to gain high offices. Powerful families struggled for power, as in Jin where all but four were eliminated from contention. The most powerful family was then destroyed by the cooperation of the Zhao, Wei, and Han, who established states in 453 BC recognized by the Zhou King fifty years later. The last remnant of the Duke of Jin's territory was divided by these three states in 376 BC. In the far north the state of Yen developed.

Another man who wrote a book on the art of war was Wu Qi. He was a native of Wei and loved to command troops. When Qi attacked Lu in 408 BC, Lu wanted to make him their general; but they distrusted him, because Wu's wife was from Qi. However, the ambitious Wu Qi killed his wife to become Lu's general in their attack on Qi. He was also accused of killing more than thirty of those who ridiculed him in Wei. Later Wu Qi was appointed by Marquis Wen of Wei as general to attack Qin, even though he was greedy and lecherous, because he could command troops better than anyone. He ingratiated himself with the next Marquis of Wei by arguing that virtue is the treasure of the state. When suspicions rose against him, Wu Qi left Wei again and became prime minister of Chu, where he strengthened the army and criticized the traveling rhetoricians, who tried to persuade rulers to join alliances and counter-alliances. Wu Qi helped Chu overcome the southern tribes, annex two small states, fend off the three Jin states in the north, and attacked Qin in the west. However, the nobles' resentment was so great against him that when King Dao died, they revolted and attacked Wu Qi, who laid across the corpse of the king and was killed. When the heir succeeded, all those who had hit the king's body while shooting at Wu Qi were executed, wiping out seventy families.

Wey Yang (known as the Lord of Shang or Shang Yang) was recommended by the ailing prime minister of Wei to succeed him, but King Hui of Wei did not take this advice nor the advice that he should kill Yang if he did not make him prime minister. Wey Yang went to Qin and persuaded Duke Xiao to institute new ordinances in 359 BC. People were organized into groups of fives and tens to control one another by being responsible for reporting each other's crimes. Those who denounced culprits were given the same rewards as those who decapitated an enemy, and those who did not denounce a criminal received the same punishment as the criminal. Titles and honors were ranged in a detailed hierarchy. Agriculture and the military were emphasized to the exclusion of all other professions.

These laws were not effective until they mutilated the heir's tutor and tattooed his preceptor for the crimes of the crown prince, who himself had his nose sliced off a few years later for another crime. Those who criticized the new laws were threatened with banishment. Strict laws and the increased taxation of strong government enhanced the wealth and power of the Qin state. After Wei was weakened by an attack from Qi, Qin took advantage and attacked Wei in 340 BC. Wey Yang invited Wei's Prince Ang to discuss peace but betrayed Wei by capturing the prince, causing Wei's King Hui to regret he had not taken his old prime minister's advice to kill Wey Yang. Losing western territory to Qin, Wei had to move their capital east to Da Liang.

Yang was enfeoffed with fifteen cities and named Lord Shang, but after ten years as prime minister of Qin the rancor against him had grown. According to the historian Sima Qian, Zhao Liang advised him to turn inward and control himself. Zhao Liang criticized Shang Yang for neglecting the hundred families, building promulgation towers, and crippling people with savage punishments. The Lord of Shang could not even go out without a strong armed guard. Zhao Liang suggested he return the fifteen cities, tend gardens, and recommended the king exalt men of the mountains, nourish the aged, preserve the orphans, respect the elderly, promote the meritorious, and honor the virtuous. Shang Yang did not heed this advice. When Duke Xiao died, he had to flee the successor's orders for his arrest. Shang Yang went to Wei, but they considered him a traitor and a criminal and forced him back into Qin, where in 338 BC he was killed and torn apart by chariots as a warning to rebels.

The historian Ban Gu (32-92 CE) wrote that Shang Yang destroyed the well-field system of sharing land; with private ownership of land commoners who became wealthy were able to encroach on the land of the peasants. The Legalist philosopher Han Fei-zi admired Shang Yang for emphasizing rewards and punishments, and he mentioned Shen Buhai for using methods of governing with responsible officers by matching actualities with their names or concepts.

Shen Buhai served Marquis Zhao of Han as prime minister for at least fifteen years until he died in 337 BC. Sima Qian wrote that during this time the state was well run, the troops were strong, and no one encroached on Han (not an easy accomplishment in a weak state during this period). Shen Buhai worked to regulate and instruct the people by using methods and techniques that awarded offices according to the abilities of individuals and the responsibilities of the positions. He was one of the first to emphasize the clarification of language so that actions matched words and concepts.

Although often lumped together with the legalists because of his development of the bureaucratic system, Shen Buhai was really more influenced by Daoist ideas than by the policies of Shang Yang. The ruler is to practice complete acquiescence so that his only concerns are for the people; he does not act himself (wu-wei), but lets the ministers perform their designated functions according to technique rather than theory. Nevertheless the intelligent ruler does have discriminating laws and methods according to definite principles, though he dims his luster while peacefully ordering the world with correct words. Bad rulers try to do things themselves, use perverted words, and thus cause disorder. The wise ruler is careful not to give too many commands but relies on the methods and techniques of well-placed and trained officers. Shen said,

If the ruler's intelligence is displayed, men will prepare against it;
if his lack of intelligence is displayed, they will delude him.
If his wisdom is displayed, men will gloss over him;
if his lack of wisdom is displayed, they will hide from him.
If his lack of desires is displayed, men will spy them out;
if his desires are displayed, they will tempt him.
Therefore he says, 'I cannot know them;
only non-action can control them.'"17

Every official is responsible for good order. If the ruler takes too much initiative, the ministers will refrain from criticizing in order to keep their positions; they will curry favor and cease to be the eyes and ears and mind for the ruler. When the ruler tries to use his own limited eyes, ears, and mind alone, the state is doomed. A better way is to cultivate technique and practice supervision. A quiet mind waits for the right time and then responds. Pure, impartial, and simple, one can set everything straight. The one who does not take initiative has collaborators, and the one who does not go first has followers. Acquiescence is the ruler's technique; action is the method of the minister. Therefore whoever sees independently has clear vision; whoever hears independently has sharp hearing; and whoever can reach decisions independently is able to rule the whole world.

Han's Marquis Zhao complained to Shen-zi that his method is difficult to use. Shen-zi replied that his method is to scrutinize achievement and give rewards and to bestow office based on ability; but the ruler was finding it difficult, because he listened to the requests of courtiers. Later Shen-zi requested that his cousin be appointed to an office. The Marquis responded by asking whether he should violate his doctrine or use technique and reject his petition. Shen-zi went home and asked to be punished. Yet Shen-zi's book says that a ruler should use technique instead of punishment by persuading, supervising and holding subordinates strictly responsible. Another incident also indicates that Shen Buhai may not have practiced what he preached, because he waited to advise his ruler until he knew what would please him rather than using independent thinking.

Su Qin grew up in Luoyang of eastern Zhou, but King Xien's courtiers did not trust him. So Su Qin went to advise Hui, who was proclaimed king of Qin in 325 BC. Having executed Shang Yang, he did not like rhetoricians. Su Qin was also unsuccessful in Zhao but went on to Yen, where he convinced their ruler he must ally himself with Zhao against Qin. The Marquis of Yen sent Su Qin to Zhao loaded with gifts, and there he persuaded the Marquis of Zhao that he must also be allied against the powerful Qin with the other five states. Then Su Qin got King Xuan of Han, King Xiang of Wei, the king of Qi, and the king of Chu all to join the alliance against Qin. Thus Su Qin became the master of the alliance of six states and served as prime minister for all of them. Wealthy and successful Su Qin paid back all his previous debts and returned to Zhao, where he was enfeoffed.

According to the historian the soldiers of Qin did not dare to come out of the Hangu Pass for fifteen years, though scholars doubt this; but then Qin got Qi and Wei to attack Zhao. Su Qin fled to Yen, and all the alliances collapsed. Qi took advantage of the death of Yen's ruler by attacking them. So Su Qin went to the king of Qi and convinced him to give ten cities back to Yen and make peace with Qin as well. Su Qin returned to Yen, overcame the slanders of the Yen courtiers, and became the lover of the king's mother, which pleased the king. Yet Su Qin feared punishment and fled to Qi, where he was attacked by an assassin who escaped. While dying, Su Qin told the king to tear apart his dead body in the marketplace as a warning, and this led to the capture and execution of the assassin.

When Su Qin's machinations were uncovered, Qi was furious with Yen while Yen was terrified of Qi. Su Qin's younger brothers, Su Dai and Su Li took over their brother's diplomatic work. Su Dai advised the king of Yen, the weakest of the states, to send hostages with Su Dai to Qi, but strife broke out in Yen; Qi attacked them and killed the Yen king and new prime minister. The brothers were afraid to enter Yen and were treated well in Qi, but Dai was then sent to Song, which was attacked by Qi. Dai wrote a letter to Yen king Zhao, who welcomed him and planned an expedition against Qi. Though Qi had taken Song in 286 BC, they were driven out of their own capital by Yen in 284 BC. Qin summoned the king of Yen; but Su Dai advised him not to go, because achievements made states mortal enemies of the tyrannical Qin, which had recently killed hundreds of thousands in the three Jin states of Zhao, Wei and Han. Thus King Zhao of Yen did not go to Qin, and Su Dai was exalted and sent to form alliances with the feudal lords as his brother Su Qin had done. Some joined the alliance and others did not, but Su Dai and Li Su both died of old age renowned among the feudal lords.

Zhang Yi of Wei studied with the same teacher as Su Qin. In Chu Zhang Yi was accused of stealing a jade disk and beaten. Zhang Yi went to Zhao to see Su Qin but was rejected and ended up in Qin, which was what Su Qin intended. Zhang Yi was made prime minister of Qin in 328 BC and five years later served Wei as prime minister on behalf of Qin. When the king of Wei died, the new king Ai would not listen to Zhang Yi; so he secretly had Qin attack Wei. In defeating Han's army Qin cut off 80,000 heads. Surrounded by dangerous states, Zhang Yi now persuaded King Ai of Wei to ally himself with powerful Qin.

Zhang Yi returned to Qin in 317 BC to become their prime minister once more. Three years later Wei abandoned Qin for new alliances but was attacked by Qin and served Qin again. Qin wanted to attack Qi, but Qi had allied itself with Chu. So Zhang Yi went to Chu to become their prime minister, offering King Huai of Chu territory and a daughter of Qin for an alliance, but meanwhile Qi submitted to Qin. When the suspicious king of Chu attacked Qin, Qi helped Qin defeat Chu and cut off 80,000 heads. Qin demanded territory from Chu, and the Chu king requested Zhang Yi, whom he imprisoned. The queen of Chu pleaded for Zhang Yi, and King Huai released him and was persuaded by Zhang Yi to ally himself with Qin.

Then Zhang Yi went to Han and convinced their king that with only 300,000 troops compared to more than a million in Qin, Han should ally itself with Qin and attack Chu. Zhang Yi returned to Qin, where he was made a lord of five towns before being sent off to the king of Qi, whom he persuaded to join Qin. He then succeeded in getting the kings of Zhao and Yen to serve Qin also. However, while Zhang Yi was returning to Qin, King Hui died and was replaced by King Wu, who disliked Zhang Yi. News of this caused all these states to renounce their alliance with Qin and return to their alliance with each other. Zhang Yi ended up as prime minister of Wei, where he died. The historian Sima Qian concluded that Su Qin and Zhang Yi were "truly men capable of ruining a country."18

As Qin's power increased, so did schemes and treacheries. In 293 BC Qin attacked Han and Wei and cut off 240,000 heads, and the next year they took two cities from Chu. In 288 BC King Zhao of Qin pronounced himself Western Emperor while the King of Qi declared himself Eastern Emperor, but the bloody wars still occurred frequently. During this time four war lords arose who slowed the expansion of Qin.

The Lord of Mengchang's father was a wealthy general in Qi. The son showed his ability by treating retainers better than his father had. He was invited to Qin, but Su Dai warned him not to go. Nevertheless King Min of Qi sent the Lord of Mengchang to Qin on a mission, and King Zhao invited him to become prime minister of Qin. Advisors to King Zhao made him suspicious that the Lord of Mengchang would favor Qi, and so he was imprisoned; but he escaped. When he got back to Qi, King Min made him prime minister. The man who was to collect the Lord of Mengchang's income for him gave it to a worthy man and was demoted; but later when Mengchang was suspected of revolting, the worthy man offered himself as a guarantee and cut his throat in front of the palace. This stimulated King Min to investigate the case and clear Mengchang, who decided to retire in Xueh. Su Dai made Mengchang jealous of the new prime minister Lu Li so that Mengchang wrote a letter to the prime minister of Qin encouraging him to attack Qi. This led to Lu Li fleeing. After King Min destroyed Song in 286 BC, he wanted to remove the Lord of Mengchang, who fled to Wei, where he became prime minister, allied with Qin and Zhao and with Yen attacked and defeated Qi, causing King Min to flee.

The Lord of Mengchang was now independent of the feudal lords and allied himself with the new King Xiang of Qi. When Mengchang was prime minister of Qi and there was no harvest, he sent Feng Huan to collect his interest payments so that he could provide for his many retainers. Feng Huan wisely feasted the debtors while he determined who could pay and who could not. Those who could afford it had to pay by a certain date, but Feng Huan burned the tallies (contracts on wood) of the other debtors. Nevertheless the negative consequences of Mengchang and his retainers were still felt generations later when the historian Sima Qian observed that the people in Xueh were hot-tempered and violent. They explained, "The Lord of Mengchang attracted the families of perhaps sixty thousand highwaymen and criminals to Xue."19 Such was the legacy of this war lord.

Zhao's Lord of Pingyuan caused the loss of 400,000 soldiers in a decisive battle with Qin at Changping in 260 BC. In spite of the efforts of the Lord of Xinling (called the Noble Scion of Wei by Sima Qian), Wei was also eventually defeated by Qin. The fourth war lord to succumb to the power of Qin was the Lord of Chunshen in the state of Chu. In 256 BC Qin attacked Han and killed 40,000, then attacked Zhao and beheaded or captured 90,000. The Zhou sovereign joined with feudal rulers to attack Qin; but when Qin attacked Zhou, its ruler submitted and surrendered its entire territory of 36 cities and 30,000 inhabitants. The next year the Zhou people fled to the east, and the nine sacred vessels passed into the hands of Qin in 149 BC, marking the final disappearance of the Zhou dynasty that had been only a figurehead for several centuries.

Li Si of Chu studied the art of government with the Confucian philosopher Xun-zi before going to Qin and advising Zheng, who became king of Qin in 246 BC. Li Si suggested that the house of Zhou had been declining for a century while Qin's power had increased; this king could unify the world. King Zheng secretly sent men out with gifts to the feudal lords who could be bribed and swords to kill those who were not. When the Qin clansmen wanted the king to expel all foreigners from his court, Li Si (a foreigner from Chu himself) persuaded him that foreigners have much to offer. Li Si rose from Chief of Scribes to Commandant of Justice and succeeded as Prime Minister the wealthy merchant Lu Buwei in 237 BC. In a decade the armies of Qin successively destroyed the six states of Han (in 230 BC), Zhao (228), Wei (225), Chu (223), Yen (222), and Qi (221) to establish the Qin king Zheng as August Emperor (Huang Di) of China. The period of warring states had been ended by the formation of a tyrannical military empire.

Qin Empire 221-206 BC
Confucius, Mencius and Xun-zi


1. I Ching tr. Wilhelm and Baynes, p. 262.
2. Ibid. p. 317.
3. The Book of Songs (Shih Ching) tr. Arthur Waley, p. 61.
4. Ibid., p. 68.
5. Ibid. p. 118-119.
6. I Li tr. John Steele, 5:9.
7. Shu Ching tr. James Legge, 2:3:2, p. 52.
8. Ibid. 5:21:3, p. 233-234.
9. The Grand Scribe's Records (Shih Chi): Memoirs of Pre-Han China by Ssu-ma Ch'ien, tr. Tsai-fa Cheng et al, 62, p. 11-12.
10. Ibid. p. 13.
11. Chun Ts'ew, with the Tso Chuen tr. James Legge, 9:27:2, p. 534.
12. Ibid.
13. The Tso Chuan tr. Burton Watson, 9:29:8, p. 151.
14. Ibid. 9:31:6, p. 161.
15. Ibid. 10:12:9, p. 167.
16. The Art of War by Sun Tzu, tr. Giles and Clavell, 12, p. 76.
17. Shen Pu-hai by Herrlee G. Creel, fragment 16, p. 365.
18. Shi Chi by Sima Qian, tr. Burton Watson, 70, p. 142.
19. Ibid. 75, p. 200.

Copyright © 1998-2005 by Sanderson Beck

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EAST ASIA 1800-1949

Shang, Zhou and the Classics
Confucius, Mencius and Xun-zi
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