THE CONTENDING STATES (481-256 B.C.): DISSOLUTION OF THE FEUDAL SYSTEM
1 _Social and military changes_ The period following that of the Chou dictatorships is known as that of the Contending States. Out of over a thousand states, fourteen remained, of which, in the period that now followed, one after another disappeared, until only one remained. This period is the fullest, or one of the fullest, of strife in all Chinese history. The various feudal states had lost all sense of allegiance to the ruler, and acted in entire independence. It is a pure fiction to speak of a Chinese State in this period; the emperor had no more power than the ruler of the Holy Roman Empire in the late medieval period of Europe, and the so-called "feudal states" of China can be directly compared with the developing national states of Europe. A comparison of this period with late medieval Europe is, indeed, of highest interest. If we adopt a political system of periodization, we might say that around 500 B.C. the unified feudal state of the first period of Antiquity came to an end and the second, a period of the national states began, although formally, the feudal system continued and the national states still retained many feudal traits. As none of these states was strong enough to control and subjugate the rest, alliances were formed. The most favoured union was the north-south axis; it struggled against an east-west league. The alliances were not stable but broke up again and again through bribery or intrigue, which produced new combinations. We must confine ourselves to mentioning the most important of the events that took place behind this military facade. Through the continual struggles more and more feudal lords lost their lands; and not only they, but the families of the nobles dependent on them, who had received so-called sub-fiefs. Some of the landless nobles perished; some offered their services to the remaining feudal lords as soldiers or advisers. Thus in this period we meet with a large number of migratory politicians who became competitors of the wandering scholars. Both these groups recommended to their lord ways and means of gaining victory over the other feudal lords, so as to become sole ruler. In order to carry out their plans the advisers claimed the rank of a Minister or Chancellor. Realistic though these advisers and their lords were in their thinking, they did not dare to trample openly on the old tradition. The emperor might in practice be a completely powerless figurehead, but he belonged nevertheless, according to tradition, to a family of divine origin, which had obtained its office not merely by the exercise of force but through a "divine mandate". Accordingly, if one of the feudal lords thought of putting forward a claim to the imperial throne, he felt compelled to demonstrate that his family was just as much of divine origin as the emperor's, and perhaps of remoter origin. In this matter the travelling "scholars" rendered valuable service as manufacturers of genealogical trees. Each of the old noble families already had its family tree, as an indispensable requisite for the sacrifices to ancestors. But in some cases this tree began as a branch of that of the imperial family: this was the case of the feudal lords who were of imperial descent and whose ancestors had been granted fiefs after the conquest of the country. Others, however, had for their first ancestor a local deity long worshipped in the family's home country, such as the ancient agrarian god Huang Ti, or the bovine god Shen Nung. Here the "scholars" stepped in, turning the local deities into human beings and "emperors". This suddenly gave the noble family concerned an imperial origin. Finally, order was brought into this collection of ancient emperors. They were arranged and connected with each other in "dynasties" or in some other "historical" form. Thus at a stroke Huang Ti, who about 450 B.C. had been a local god in the region of southern Shansi, became the forefather of almost all the noble families, including that of the imperial house of the Chou. Needless to say, there would be discrepancies between the family trees constructed by the various scholars for their lords, and later, when this problem had lost its political importance, the commentators laboured for centuries on the elaboration of an impeccable system of "ancient emperors"--and to this day there are sinologists who continue to present these humanized gods as historical personalities. In the earlier wars fought between the nobles they were themselves the actual combatants, accompanied only by their retinue. As the struggles for power grew in severity, each noble hired such mercenaries as he could, for instance the landless nobles just mentioned. Very soon it became the custom to arm peasants and send them to the wars. This substantially increased the armies. The numbers of soldiers who were killed in particular battles may have been greatly exaggerated (in a single battle in 260 B.C., for instance, the number who lost their lives was put at 450,000, a quite impossible figure); but there must have been armies of several thousand men, perhaps as many as 10,000. The population had grown considerably by that time. The armies of the earlier period consisted mainly of the nobles in their war chariots; each chariot surrounded by the retinue of the nobleman. Now came large troops of commoners as infantry as well, drawn from the peasant population. To these, cavalry were first added in the fifth century B.C., by the northern state of Chao (in the present Shansi), following the example of its Turkish and Mongol neighbours. The general theory among ethnologists is that the horse was first harnessed to a chariot, and that riding came much later; but it is my opinion that riders were known earlier, but could not be efficiently employed in war because the practice had not begun of fighting in disciplined troops of horsemen, and the art had not been learnt of shooting accurately with the bow from the back of a galloping horse, especially shooting to the rear. In any case, its cavalry gave the feudal state of Chao a military advantage for a short time. Soon the other northern states copied it one after another--especially Ch'in, in north-west China. The introduction of cavalry brought a change in clothing all over China, for the former long skirt-like garb could not be worn on horseback. Trousers and the riding-cap were introduced from the north. The new technique of war made it important for every state to possess as many soldiers as possible, and where it could to reduce the enemy's numbers. One result of this was that wars became much more sanguinary; another was that men in other countries were induced to immigrate and settle as peasants, so that the taxes they paid should provide the means for further recruitment of soldiers. In the state of Ch'in, especially, the practice soon started of using the whole of the peasantry simultaneously as a rough soldiery. Hence that state was particularly anxious to attract peasants in large numbers. 2 _Economic changes_ In the course of the wars much land of former noblemen had become free. Often the former serfs had then silently become landowners. Others had started to cultivate empty land in the area inhabited by the indigenous population and regarded this land, which they themselves had made fertile, as their private family property. There was, in spite of the growth of the population, still much cultivable land available. Victorious feudal lords induced farmers to come to their territory and to cultivate the wasteland. This is a period of great migrations, internal and external. It seems that from this period on not only merchants but also farmers began to migrate southward into the area of the present provinces of Kwangtung and Kwangsi and as far as Tonking. As long as the idea that all land belonged to the great clans of the Chou prevailed, sale of land was inconceivable; but when individual family heads acquired land or cultivated new land, they regarded it as their natural right to dispose of the land as they wished. From now on until the end of the medieval period, the family head as representative of the family could sell or buy land. However, the land belonged to the family and not to him as a person. This development was favoured by the spread of money. In time land in general became an asset with a market value and could be bought and sold. Another important change can be seen from this time on. Under the feudal system of the Chou strict primogeniture among the nobility existed: the fief went to the oldest son by the main wife. The younger sons were given independent pieces of land with its inhabitants as new, secondary fiefs. With the increase in population there was no more such land that could be set up as a new fief. From now on, primogeniture was retained in the field of ritual and religion down to the present time: only the oldest son of the main wife represents the family in the ancestor worship ceremonies; only the oldest son of the emperor could become his successor. But the landed property from now on was equally divided among all sons. Occasionally the oldest son was given some extra land to enable him to pay the expenses for the family ancestral worship. Mobile property, on the other side, was not so strictly regulated and often the oldest son was given preferential treatment in the inheritance. The technique of cultivation underwent some significant changes. The animal-drawn plough seems to have been invented during this period, and from now on, some metal agricultural implements like iron sickles and iron plough-shares became more common. A fallow system was introduced so that cultivation became more intensive. Manuring of fields was already known in Shang time. It seems that the consumption of meat decreased from this period on: less mutton and beef were eaten. Pig and dog became the main sources of meat, and higher consumption of beans made up for the loss of proteins. All this indicates a strong population increase. We have no statistics for this period, but by 400 B.C. it is conceivable that the population under the control of the various individual states comprised something around twenty-five millions. The eastern plains emerge more and more as centres of production. The increased use of metal and the invention of coins greatly stimulated trade. Iron which now became quite common, was produced mainly in Shansi, other metals in South China. But what were the traders to do with their profits? Even later in China, and almost down to recent times, it was never possible to hoard large quantities of money. Normally the money was of copper, and a considerable capital in the form of copper coin took up a good deal of room and was not easy to conceal. If anyone had much money, everyone in his village knew it. No one dared to hoard to any extent for fear of attracting bandits and creating lasting insecurity. On the other hand the merchants wanted to attain the standard of living which the nobles, the landowners, used to have. Thus they began to invest their money in land. This was all the easier for them since it often happened that one of the lesser nobles or a peasant fell deeply into debt to a merchant and found himself compelled to give up his land in payment of the debt. Soon the merchants took over another function. So long as there had been many small feudal states, and the feudal lords had created lesser lords with small fiefs, it had been a simple matter for the taxes to be collected, in the form of grain, from the peasants through the agents of the lesser lords. Now that there were only a few great states in existence, the old system was no longer effectual. This gave the merchants their opportunity. The rulers of the various states entrusted the merchants with the collection of taxes, and this had great advantages for the ruler: he could obtain part of the taxes at once, as the merchant usually had grain in stock, or was himself a landowner and could make advances at any time. Through having to pay the taxes to the merchant, the village population became dependent on him. Thus the merchants developed into the first administrative officials in the provinces. In connection with the growth of business, the cities kept on growing. It is estimated that at the beginning of the third century, the city of Lin-chin, near the present Chi-nan in Shantung, had a population of 210,000 persons. Each of its walls had a length of 4,000 metres; thus, it was even somewhat larger than the famous city of Loyang, capital of China during the Later Han dynasty, in the second century A.D. Several other cities of this period have been recently excavated and must have had populations far above 10,000 persons. There were two types of cities: the rectangular, planned city of the Chou conquerors, a seat of administration; and the irregularly shaped city which grew out of a market place and became only later an administrative centre. We do not know much about the organization and administration of these cities, but they seem to have had considerable independence because some of them issued their own city coins. When these cities grew, the food produced in the neighbourhood of the towns no longer sufficed for their inhabitants. This led to the building of roads, which also facilitated the transport of supplies for great armies. These roads mainly radiated from the centre of consumption into the surrounding country, and they were less in use for communication between one administrative centre and another. For long journeys the rivers were of more importance, since transport by wagon was always expensive owing to the shortage of draught animals. Thus we see in this period the first important construction of canals and a development of communications. With the canal construction was connected the construction of irrigation and drainage systems, which further promoted agricultural production. The cities were places in which often great luxury developed; music, dance, and other refinements were cultivated; but the cities also seem to have harboured considerable industries. Expensive and technically superior silks were woven; painters decorated the walls of temples and palaces; blacksmiths and bronze-smiths produced beautiful vessels and implements. It seems certain that the art of casting iron and the beginnings of the production of steel were already known at this time. The life of the commoners in these cities was regulated by laws; the first codes are mentioned in 536 B.C. By the end of the fourth century B.C. a large body of criminal law existed, supposedly collected by Li K'uei, which became the foundation of all later Chinese law. It seems that in this period the states of China moved quickly towards a money economy, and an observer to whom the later Chinese history was not known could have predicted the eventual development of a capitalistic society out of the apparent tendencies. So far nothing has been said in these chapters about China's foreign policy. Since the central ruling house was completely powerless, and the feudal lords were virtually independent rulers, little can be said, of course, about any "Chinese" foreign policy. There is less than ever to be said about it for this period of the "Contending States". Chinese merchants penetrated southward, and soon settlers moved in increasing numbers into the plains of the south-east. In the north, there were continual struggles with Turkish and Mongol tribes, and about 300 B.C. the name of the Hsiung-nu (who are often described as "The Huns of the Far East") makes its first appearance. It is known that these northern peoples had mastered the technique of horseback warfare and were far ahead of the Chinese, although the Chinese imitated their methods. The peasants of China, as they penetrated farther and farther north, had to be protected by their rulers against the northern peoples, and since the rulers needed their armed forces for their struggles within China, a beginning was made with the building of frontier walls, to prevent sudden raids of the northern peoples against the peasant settlements. Thus came into existence the early forms of the "Great Wall of China". This provided for the first time a visible frontier between Chinese and non-Chinese. Along this frontier, just as by the walls of towns, great markets were held at which Chinese peasants bartered their produce to non-Chinese nomads. Both partners in this trade became accustomed to it and drew very substantial profits from it. We even know the names of several great horse-dealers who bought horses from the nomads and sold them within China. 3 _Cultural changes_ Together with the economic and social changes in this period, there came cultural changes. New ideas sprang up in exuberance, as would seem entirely natural, because in times of change and crisis men always come forward to offer solutions for pressing problems. We shall refer here only briefly to the principal philosophers of the period. Mencius (_c_. 372-289 B.C.) and Hsuen Tz[)u] (_c_. 298-238 B.C.) were both followers of Confucianism. Both belonged to the so-called "scholars", and both lived in the present Shantung, that is to say, in eastern China. Both elaborated the ideas of Confucius, but neither of them achieved personal success. Mencius (Meng Tz[)u]) recognized that the removal of the ruling house of the Chou no longer presented any difficulty. The difficult question for him was when a change of ruler would be justified. And how could it be ascertained whom Heaven had destined as successor if the existing dynasty was brought down? Mencius replied that the voice of the "people", that is to say of the upper class and its following, would declare the right man, and that this man would then be Heaven's nominee. This theory persisted throughout the history of China. Hsuen Tz[)u]'s chief importance lies in the fact that he recognized that the "laws" of nature are unchanging but that man's fate is determined not by nature alone but, in addition, by his own activities. Man's nature is basically bad, but by working on himself within the framework of society, he can change his nature and can develop. Thus, Hsuen Tz[)u]'s philosophy contains a dynamic element, fit for a dynamic period of history. In the strongest contrast to these thinkers was the school of Mo Ti (at some time between 479 and 381 B.C.). The Confucian school held fast to the old feudal order of society, and was only ready to agree to a few superficial changes. The school of Mo Ti proposed to alter the fundamental principles of society. Family ethics must no longer be retained; the principles of family love must be extended to the whole upper class, which Mo Ti called the "people". One must love another member of the upper class just as much as one's own father. Then the friction between individuals and between states would cease. Instead of families, large groups of people friendly to one another must be created. Further one should live frugally and not expend endless money on effete rites, as the Confucianists demanded. The expenditure on weddings and funerals under the Confucianist ritual consumed so much money that many families fell into debt and, if they were unable to pay off the debt, sank from the upper into the lower class. In order to maintain the upper class, therefore, there must be more frugality. Mo Ti's teaching won great influence. He and his successors surrounded themselves with a private army of supporters which was rigidly organized and which could be brought into action at any time as its leader wished. Thus the Mohists came forward everywhere with an approach entirely different from that of the isolated Confucians. When the Mohists offered their assistance to a ruler, they brought with them a group of technical and military experts who had been trained on the same principles. In consequence of its great influence this teaching was naturally hotly opposed by the Confucianists. We see clearly in Mo Ti's and his followers' ideas the influence of the changed times. His principle of "universal love" reflects the breakdown of the clans and the general weakening of family bonds which had taken place. His ideal of social organization resembles organizations of merchants and craftsmen which we know only of later periods. His stress upon frugality, too, reflects a line of thought which is typical of businessmen. The rationality which can also be seen in his metaphysical ideas and which has induced modern Chinese scholars to call him an early materialist is fitting to an age in which a developing money economy and expanding trade required a cool, logical approach to the affairs of this world. A similar mentality can be seen in another school which appeared from the fifth century B.C. on, the "dialecticians". Here are a number of names to mention: the most important are Kung-sun Lung and Hui Tz[)u], who are comparable with the ancient Greek dialecticians and Sophists. They saw their main task in the development of logic. Since, as we have mentioned, many "scholars" journeyed from one princely court to another, and other people came forward, each recommending his own method to the prince for the increase of his power, it was of great importance to be able to talk convincingly, so as to defeat a rival in a duel of words on logical grounds. Unquestionably, however, the most important school of this period was that of the so-called Legalists, whose most famous representative was Shang Yang (or Shang Tz[)u], died 338 B.C.). The supporters of this school came principally from old princely families that had lost their feudal possessions, and not from among the so-called scholars. They were people belonging to the upper class who possessed political experience and now offered their knowledge to other princes who still reigned. These men had entirely given up the old conservative traditions of Confucianism; they were the first to make their peace with the new social order. They recognized that little or nothing remained of the old upper class of feudal lords and their following. The last of the feudal lords collected around the heads of the last remaining princely courts, or lived quietly on the estates that still remained to them. Such a class, with its moral and economic strength broken, could no longer lead. The Legalists recognized, therefore, only the ruler and next to him, as the really active and responsible man, the chancellor; under these there were to be only the common people, consisting of the richer and poorer peasants; the people's duty was to live and work for the ruler, and to carry out without question whatever orders they received. They were not to discuss or think, but to obey. The chancellor was to draft laws which came automatically into operation. The ruler himself was to have nothing to do with the government or with the application of the laws. He was only a symbol, a representative of the equally inactive Heaven. Clearly these theories were much the best suited to the conditions of the break-up of feudalism about 300 B.C. Thus they were first adopted by the state in which the old idea of the feudal state had been least developed, the state of Ch'in, in which alien peoples were most strongly represented. Shang Yang became the actual organizer of the state of Ch'in. His ideas were further developed by Han Fei Tz[)u] (died 233 B.C.). The mentality which speaks out of his writings has closest similarity to the famous Indian Arthashastra which originated slightly earlier; both books exhibit a "Machiavellian" spirit. It must be observed that these theories had little or nothing to do with the ideas of the old cult of Heaven or with family allegiance; on the other hand, the soldierly element, with the notion of obedience, was well suited to the militarized peoples of the west. The population of Ch'in, organized throughout on these principles, was then in a position to remove one opponent after another. In the middle of the third century B.C. the greater part of the China of that time was already in the hands of Ch'in, and in 256 B.C. the last emperor of the Chou dynasty was compelled, in his complete impotence, to abdicate in favour of the ruler of Ch'in. Apart from these more or less political speculations, there came into existence in this period, by no mere chance, a school of thought which never succeeded in fully developing in China, concerned with natural science and comparable with the Greek natural philosophy. We have already several times pointed to parallels between Chinese and Indian thoughts. Such similarities may be the result of mere coincidence. But recent findings in Central Asia indicate that direct connections between India, Persia, and China may have started at a time much earlier than we had formerly thought. Sogdian merchants who later played a great role in commercial contacts might have been active already from 350 or 400 B.C. on and might have been the transmitters of new ideas. The most important philosopher of this school was Tsou Yen (flourished between 320 and 295 B.C.); he, as so many other Chinese philosophers of this time, was a native of Shantung, and the ports of the Shantung coast may well have been ports of entrance of new ideas from Western Asia as were the roads through the Turkestan basin into Western China. Tsou Yen's basic ideas had their root in earlier Chinese speculations: the doctrine that all that exists is to be explained by the positive, creative, or the negative, passive action (Yang and Yin) of the five elements, wood, fire, earth, metal, and water (Wu hsing). But Tsou Yen also considered the form of the world, and was the first to put forward the theory that the world consists not of a single continent with China in the middle of it, but of nine continents. The names of these continents sound like Indian names, and his idea of a central world-mountain may well have come from India. The "scholars" of his time were quite unable to appreciate this beginning of science, which actually led to the contention of this school, in the first century B.C., that the earth was of spherical shape. Tsou Yen himself was ridiculed as a dreamer; but very soon, when the idea of the reciprocal destruction of the elements was applied, perhaps by Tsou Yen himself, to politics, namely when, in connection with the astronomical calculations much cultivated by this school and through the identification of dynasties with the five elements, the attempt was made to explain and to calculate the duration and the supersession of dynasties, strong pressure began to be brought to bear against this school. For hundreds of years its books were distributed and read only in secret, and many of its members were executed as revolutionaries. Thus, this school, instead of becoming the nucleus of a school of natural science, was driven underground. The secret societies which started to arise clearly from the first century B.C. on, but which may have been in existence earlier, adopted the politico-scientific ideas of Tsou Yen's school. Such secret societies have existed in China down to the present time. They all contained a strong religious, but heterodox element which can often be traced back to influences from a foreign religion. In times of peace they were centres of a true, emotional religiosity. In times of stress, a "messianic" element tended to become prominent: the world is bad and degenerating; morality and a just social order have decayed, but the coming of a savior is close; the saviour will bring a new, fair order and destroy those who are wicked. Tsou Yen's philosophy seemed to allow them to calculate when this new order would start; later secret societies contained ideas from Iranian Mazdaism, Manichaeism and Buddhism, mixed with traits from the popular religions and often couched in terms taken from the Taoists. The members of such societies were, typically, ordinary farmers who here found an emotional outlet for their frustrations in daily life. In times of stress, members of the leading _elite_ often but not always established contacts with these societies, took over their leadership and led them to open rebellion. The fate of Tsou Yen's school did not mean that the Chinese did not develop in the field of sciences. At about Tsou Yen's lifetime, the first mathematical handbook was written. From these books it is obvious that the interest of the government in calculating the exact size of fields, the content of measures for grain, and other fiscal problems stimulated work in this field, just as astronomy developed from the interest of the government in the fixation of the calendar. Science kept on developing in other fields, too, but mainly as a hobby of scholars and in the shops of craftsmen, if it did not have importance for the administration and especially taxation and budget calculations.