THE CH'IN DYNASTY (256-207 B.C.) 1 _Towards the unitary State_ In 256 B.C. the last ruler of the Chou dynasty abdicated in favour of the feudal lord of the state of Ch'in. Some people place the beginning of the Ch'in dynasty in that year, 256 B.C.; others prefer the date 221 B.C., because it was only in that year that the remaining feudal states came to their end and Ch'in really ruled all China. The territories of the state of Ch'in, the present Shensi and eastern Kansu, were from a geographical point of view transit regions, closed off in the north by steppes and deserts and in the south by almost impassable mountains. Only between these barriers, along the rivers Wei (in Shensi) and T'ao (in Kansu), is there a rich cultivable zone which is also the only means of transit from east to west. All traffic from and to Turkestan had to take this route. It is believed that strong relations with eastern Turkestan began in this period, and the state of Ch'in must have drawn big profits from its "foreign trade". The merchant class quickly gained more and more importance. The population was growing through immigration from the east which the government encouraged. This growing population with its increasing means of production, especially the great new irrigation systems, provided a welcome field for trade which was also furthered by the roads, though these were actually built for military purposes. The state of Ch'in had never been so closely associated with the feudal communities of the rest of China as the other feudal states. A great part of its population, including the ruling class, was not purely Chinese but contained an admixture of Turks and Tibetans. The other Chinese even called Ch'in a "barbarian state", and the foreign influence was, indeed, unceasing. This was a favourable soil for the overcoming of feudalism, and the process was furthered by the factors mentioned in the preceding chapter, which were leading to a change in the social structure of China. Especially the recruitment of the whole population, including the peasantry, for war was entirely in the interest of the influential nomad fighting peoples within the state. About 250 B.C., Ch'in was not only one of the economically strongest among the feudal states, but had already made an end of its own feudal system. Every feudal system harbours some seeds of a bureaucratic system of administration: feudal lords have their personal servants who are not recruited from the nobility, but who by their easy access to the lord can easily gain importance. They may, for instance, be put in charge of estates, workshops, and other properties of the lord and thus acquire experience in administration and an efficiency which are obviously of advantage to the lord. When Chinese lords of the preceding period, with the help of their sub-lords of the nobility, made wars, they tended to put the newly-conquered areas not into the hands of newly-enfeoffed noblemen, but to keep them as their property and to put their administration into the hands of efficient servants; these were the first bureaucratic officials. Thus, in the course of the later Chou period, a bureaucratic system of administration had begun to develop, and terms like "district" or "prefecture" began to appear, indicating that areas under a bureaucratic administration existed beside and inside areas under feudal rule. This process had gone furthest in Ch'in and was sponsored by the representatives of the Legalist School, which was best adapted to the new economic and social situation. A son of one of the concubines of the penultimate feudal ruler of Ch'in was living as a hostage in the neighbouring state of Chao, in what is now northern Shansi. There he made the acquaintance of an unusual man, the merchant Lue Pu-wei, a man of education and of great political influence. Lue Pu-wei persuaded the feudal ruler of Ch'in to declare this son his successor. He also sold a girl to the prince to be his wife, and the son of this marriage was to be the famous and notorious Shih Huang-ti. Lue Pu-wei came with his protege to Ch'in, where he became his Prime Minister, and after the prince's death in 247 B.C. Lue Pu-wei became the regent for his young son Shih Huang-ti (then called Cheng). For the first time in Chinese history a merchant, a commoner, had reached one of the highest positions in the state. It is not known what sort of trade Lue Pu-wei had carried on, but probably he dealt in horses, the principal export of the state of Chao. As horses were an absolute necessity for the armies of that time, it is easy to imagine that a horse-dealer might gain great political influence. Soon after Shih Huang-ti's accession Lue Pu-wei was dismissed, and a new group of advisers, strong supporters of the Legalist school, came into power. These new men began an active policy of conquest instead of the peaceful course which Lue Pu-wei had pursued. One campaign followed another in the years from 230 to 222, until all the feudal states had been conquered, annexed, and brought under Shih Huang-ti's rule. 2 _Centralization in every field_ The main task of the now gigantic realm was the organization of administration. One of the first acts after the conquest of the other feudal states was to deport all the ruling families and other important nobles to the capital of Ch'in; they were thus deprived of the basis of their power, and their land could be sold. These upper-class families supplied to the capital a class of consumers of luxury goods which attracted craftsmen and businessmen and changed the character of the capital from that of a provincial town to a centre of arts and crafts. It was decided to set up the uniform system of administration throughout the realm, which had already been successfully introduced in Ch'in: the realm was split up into provinces and the provinces into prefectures; and an official was placed in charge of each province or prefecture. Originally the prefectures in Ch'in had been placed directly under the central administration, with an official, often a merchant, being responsible for the collection of taxes; the provinces, on the other hand, formed a sort of military command area, especially in the newly-conquered frontier territories. With the growing militarization of Ch'in, greater importance was assigned to the provinces, and the prefectures were made subordinate to them. Thus the officials of the provinces were originally army officers but now, in the reorganization of the whole realm, the distinction between civil and military administration was abolished. At the head of the province were a civil and also a military governor, and both were supervised by a controller directly responsible to the emperor. Since there was naturally a continual struggle for power between these three officials, none of them was supreme and none could develop into a sort of feudal lord. In this system we can see the essence of the later Chinese administration. [Illustration: 3 Bronze plaque representing two horses fighting each other. Ordos region, animal style. _From V. Griessmaier: Sammlung Baron Eduard von der Heydt, Vienna_ 1936, _illustration No_. 6.] [Illustration: 4 Hunting scene: detail from the reliefs in the tombs at Wu-liang-tz'u. _From a print in the author's possession_.] [Illustration: 5 Part of the 'Great Wall'. _Photo Eberhard_.] Owing to the centuries of division into independent feudal states, the various parts of the country had developed differently. Each province spoke a different dialect which also contained many words borrowed from the language of the indigenous population; and as these earlier populations sometimes belonged to different races with different languages, in each state different words had found their way into the Chinese dialects. This caused divergences not only in the spoken but in the written language, and even in the characters in use for writing. There exist to this day dictionaries in which the borrowed words of that time are indicated, and keys to the various old forms of writing also exist. Thus difficulties arose if, for instance, a man from the old territory of Ch'in was to be transferred as an official to the east: he could not properly understand the language and could not read the borrowed words, if he could read at all! For a large number of the officials of that time, especially the officers who became military governors, were certainly unable to read. The government therefore ordered that the language of the whole country should be unified, and that a definite style of writing should be generally adopted. The words to be used were set out in lists, so that the first lexicography came into existence simply through the needs of practical administration, as had happened much earlier in Babylon. Thus, the few recently found manuscripts from pre-Ch'in times still contain a high percentage of Chinese characters which we cannot read because they were local characters; but all words in texts after the Ch'in time can be read because they belong to the standardized script. We know now that all classical texts of pre-Ch'in time as we have them today, have been re-written in this standardized script in the second century B.C.: we do not know which words they actually contained at the time when they were composed, nor how these words were actually pronounced, a fact which makes the reconstruction of Chinese language before Ch'in very difficult. The next requirement for the carrying on of the administration was the unification of weights and measures and, a surprising thing to us, of the gauge of the tracks for wagons. In the various feudal states there had been different weights and measures in use, and this had led to great difficulties in the centralization of the collection of taxes. The centre of administration, that is to say the new capital of Ch'in, had grown through the transfer of nobles and through the enormous size of the administrative staff into a thickly populated city with very large requirements of food. The fields of the former state of Ch'in alone could not feed the city; and the grain supplied in payment of taxation had to be brought in from far around, partly by cart. The only roads then existing consisted of deep cart-tracks. If the axles were not of the same length for all carts, the roads were simply unusable for many of them. Accordingly a fixed length was laid down for axles. The advocates of all these reforms were also their beneficiaries, the merchants. The first principle of the Legalist school, a principle which had been applied in Ch'in and which was to be extended to the whole realm, was that of the training of the population in discipline and obedience, so that it should become a convenient tool in the hands of the officials. This requirement was best met by a people composed as far as possible only of industrious, uneducated, and tax-paying peasants. Scholars and philosophers were not wanted, in so far as they were not directly engaged in work commissioned by the state. The Confucianist writings came under special attack because they kept alive the memory of the old feudal conditions, preaching the ethic of the old feudal class which had just been destroyed and must not be allowed to rise again if the state was not to suffer fresh dissolution or if the central administration was not to be weakened. In 213 B.C. there took place the great holocaust of books which destroyed the Confucianist writings with the exception of one copy of each work for the State Library. Books on practical subjects were not affected. In the fighting at the end of the Ch'in dynasty the State Library was burnt down, so that many of the old works have only come down to us in an imperfect state and with doubtful accuracy. The real loss arose, however, from the fact that the new generation was little interested in the Confucianist literature, so that when, fifty years later, the effort was made to restore some texts from the oral tradition, there no longer existed any scholars who really knew them by heart, as had been customary in the past. In 221 B.C. Shih Huang-ti had become emperor of all China. The judgments passed on him vary greatly: the official Chinese historiography rejects him entirely--naturally, for he tried to exterminate Confucianism, while every later historian was himself a Confucian. Western scholars often treat him as one of the greatest men in world history. Closer research has shown that Shih Huang-ti was evidently an average man without any great gifts, that he was superstitious, and shared the tendency of his time to mystical and shamanistic notions. His own opinion was that he was the first of a series of ten thousand emperors of his dynasty (Shih Huang-ti means "First Emperor"), and this merely suggests megalomania. The basic principles of his administration had been laid down long before his time by the philosophers of the Legalist school, and were given effect by his Chancellor Li Ss[)u]. Li Ss[)u] was the really great personality of that period. The Legalists taught that the ruler must do as little as possible himself. His Ministers were there to act for him. He himself was to be regarded as a symbol of Heaven. In that capacity Shih Huang-ti undertook periodical journeys into the various parts of the empire, less for any practical purpose of inspection than for purposes of public worship. They corresponded to the course of the sun, and this indicates that Shih Huang-ti had adopted a notion derived from the older northern culture of the nomad peoples. He planned the capital in an ambitious style but, although there was real need for extension of the city, his plans can scarcely be regarded as of great service. His enormous palace, and also his mausoleum which was built for him before his death, were constructed in accordance with astral notions. Within the palace the emperor continually changed his residential quarters, probably not only from fear of assassination but also for astral reasons. His mausoleum formed a hemispherical dome, and all the stars of the sky were painted on its interior. 3 _Frontier defence. Internal collapse_ When the empire had been unified by the destruction of the feudal states, the central government became responsible for the protection of the frontiers from attack from without. In the south there were only peoples in a very low state of civilization, who could offer no serious menace to the Chinese. The trading colonies that gradually extended to Canton and still farther south served as Chinese administrative centres for provinces and prefectures, with small but adequate armies of their own, so that in case of need they could defend themselves. In the north the position was much more difficult. In addition to their conquest within China, the rulers of Ch'in had pushed their frontier far to the north. The nomad tribes had been pressed back and deprived of their best pasturage, namely the Ordos region. When the livelihood of nomad peoples is affected, when they are threatened with starvation, their tribes often collect round a tribal leader who promises new pasturage and better conditions of life for all who take part in the common campaigns. In this way the first great union of tribes in the north of China came into existence in this period, forming the realm of the Hsiung-nu under their first leader, T'ou-man. This first realm of the Hsiung-nu was not yet extensive, but its ambitious and warlike attitude made it a danger to Ch'in. It was therefore decided to maintain a large permanent army in the north. In addition to this, the frontier walls already existing in the mountains were rebuilt and made into a single great system. Thus came into existence in 214 B.C., out of the blood and sweat of countless pressed labourers, the famous Great Wall. On one of his periodical journeys the emperor fell ill and died. His death was the signal for the rising of many rebellious elements. Nobles rose in order to regain power and influence; generals rose because they objected to the permanent pressure from the central administration and their supervision by controllers; men of the people rose as popular leaders because the people were more tormented than ever by forced labour, generally at a distance from their homes. Within a few months there were six different rebellions and six different "rulers". Assassinations became the order of the day; the young heir to the throne was removed in this way and replaced by another young prince. But as early as 206 B.C. one of the rebels, Liu Chi (also called Liu Pang), entered the capital and dethroned the nominal emperor. Liu Chi at first had to retreat and was involved in hard fighting with a rival, but gradually he succeeded in gaining the upper hand and defeated not only his rival but also the other eighteen states that had been set up anew in China in those years.