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The Rise of the Early Chinese Empire and Patterns of Chinese History Dingxin Zhao The University of Chicago Total word count: 23,956 Running title: Feudal Warfare and Patterns of Chinese History Address: 1126 East 59 th Street Department of Sociology University of Chicago Chicago, IL. 60636 [email protected]
1 Abstract: This article explains the formation of seven patterns of Chinese history by focusing on its formative stage ­ the Spring­Autumn and Warring­States era (770­221 BC) and its immediate aftermath. It argues that the repetitive and inconclusive wars among the feudal states of the time facilitated the rise of instrumental culture and associated developments such as the rise of monetary economy, bureaucracy and philosophies. Yet the lack of a strong checking from societal forces resulted in the harnessing of this dynamism by a unified Legalist state (Qin), whose brutality brought it to a quick demise. This historical lesson pushed the rulers of the subsequent Han Dynasty to search for new ruling methods, and the whole process led to the rise of a Confucian­Legalist state whose rule was legitimized by Confucianism and whose bureaucracy was staffed by Confucian scholars. This alliance of the state and Confucian scholars provided a base for state legitimacy, a moral guidance to all, a check­and­balance between the ruling house and bureaucrats, a homogeneous ruling class culture, and a certain level of upward mobility for the lower classes to join the ruling rank. Such a fusing of political power and ideological power marginalized economic and military power, and shaped the entire history of imperial China.
2 China experts and historians have frequently noted and discussed the following seven patterns of imperial China (Creel 1970; Eisenstadt 1986; Fairbank 1992; Finer 1997, Hsu 1965; Huang 1997; McNeill 1982; Weber 1951, 1958; Wittfogel 1957): 1) China is the only place in the world where an imperial system, despite rises and falls through dynastic cycles, persisted most of the time from the founding of the Qin Empire in 221 BCE to the early 20 th century. 2) Ever since 221 BCE, China had been governed by a meritocratic bureaucracy, a political system that anticipated similar developments in Europe by almost 2,000 years. 1 3) China had the strongest and most paternalistic state tradition among the major civilizations. 4) Whereas military commanders often wielded extraordinary political powers in other empires, in China the generals had no political significance and were under civilian control except during civil wars. 5) While most world empires expanded territories through military expedition, China expanded its territory and influence in the north most of the time by the self­sinicizing efforts of nomadic conquerors. 6) China was the only major civilization where transcendental religions did not have a great impact on politics and where the state exercised more tolerance to various forms of persuasion. 7) Unlike the pre­modern West, Chinese cities were mainly political centers and commercial classes played little role in politics. What were the historical forces behind the development of these patterns? This article intends to address that question. Before moving on, I must first qualify that, in this age of deconstruction, most of these patterns have been questioned. For example, regarding the fourth pattern, one may give examples of warlordism and military rebellions during imperial China. As for the seventh pattern, one may point out the changing nature of Chinese cities and the rise of market towns in late imperial China. Objections to the other patterns can be fashioned similarly. We need to keep in mind, however, that these patterns were all constructed when scholars tried to compare China with other, especially Western, civilizations. Needless to say, military commanders during imperial China occasionally rebelled. But, compared to the Roman Empire, for example, it is immediately obvious that the Chinese 1 Weber (1951, pp.61­2) was among the earliest to point out the parallels between the “administrative rationalization” in early China and pre­modern Europe.
3 military played almost no role in politics. Also, while cities in China experienced huge changes, they never acquired an autonomy needed to counterbalance the imperial power. In short, attention to imperial China’s temporal and spatial diversity will no doubt generate interesting research agendas and insights, but they are unlikely to challenge the seven patterns presented above. My search for answers has located the origins of all the seven historical patterns during the Spring­Autumn and Warring States (SA&WS) era (770­221 BCE) and its immediate aftermath. That era started with a feudal arrangement of over 100 states (dukedoms) and ended with a unified Qin Empire. During this period, we see transformations in the nature of wars from small­scale warfare to long­distance total wars lasting for months or even years, the rise of professional generals and military strategists, and the emergence of philosophies, including that which were later labeled as Confucianism, Legalism, Daoism and Mohism. We also see the proliferation of iron tools in agriculture, the spread of private ownership of land, a quick growth in agricultural productivity, the emergence of metropolitan centers, and an increasing importance of industry and trade. Scholars have observed certain parallels between the developments of SA&WS China and pre­modern Europe (e.g., Creel 1970; Hsu 1965; Weber 1951). The difference is that while in Europe, such a development led to the rise of capitalism, nation states and representative government, in China only 70 years after the unification, the Chinese empire had crystallized into a Confucian­Legalist state that fused political power and ideological power into one, harnessed military power and marginalized economic power. 2 By the fusion of political and ideological power, I mean a close symbiotic relationship between the ruling house and Confucian scholar­officials. While the emperor accepted imperial Confucianism as a ruling ideology, Confucian scholars supplied the meritocratically selected officials for the regime and adopted Legalist measures to rule the country. The seven historical patterns listed above are all related to this particular 2 My idea that by around 140 BCE the Chinese empire had crystallized into a system that merged political power and ideological power has benefited from Hall’s (1986) seminal work.
4 alignment of the four major sources of social power (political, ideological, economic and military) as defined by Mann (1986, 1993). The purpose of this article is thus twofold: to explain the development of the SA&WS era, a development that led to the rise of the Confucian­Legalist state, and to understand how this political crystallization gave rise to the patterns of Chinese history. In my research, I found that the incessant wars fought among the feudal states were most crucial in shaping SA&WS history. During the SA&WS era, five or six powerful states and a few other secondary powers emerged. These states of similar strength were caught up in a war­ridden politics for over 500 years. My explanation of the SA&WS dynamism involves two general mechanisms. The first concerns the repetitive and inconclusive wars fought among the feudal states. This particular kind of war­driven conflict facilitated the rise of rational­instrumental culture and a quick cumulative social development. 3 The second is the pattern of power configuration in society, by which I mean the relationships between the feudal states and societal forces. To summarize my argument: the feudal arrangement during the SA&WS era contributed to frequent but inconclusive wars; the war­driven conflict provided an impetus for all spheres of developments; however, due to the lower diversity and a generally weak development of societal forces at the time (in comparison with feudal Europe and ancient Greece, for example), 4 the fruits of the war­generated development in the spheres of 3 About 866 wars have been recorded in historical sources. Some China scholars have also noticed the importance of wars in SA&WS social changes (Creel 1970, ch.10; Hsu 1965; Lewis 1990). Mark Lewis, for example, has described changes in military practice during the SA&WS period. My study differs from Lewis’ in two aspects. First, while Lewis’ account is descriptive, mine is analytical. More importantly, what interests me is not just the ritual aspect of the SA&WS warfare, but its impact on Chinese history. 4 The difference is obvious. In Europe, the balance of power among the state, the church, the city and the nobility prevented the rise of absolutist states and paved the way for the rise of capitalism, liberalism and democracy. In China, by contrast, there was no such social diversity that could prevent state power from continuously rising in a process of war­driven politics.
5 military, ideology and economy were eventually harnessed by the state; this ascendancy of the state power paved the way to the rise of the Confucian­Legalist state and set the path of Chinese history for the next 2,000 years. Here, the concept of rational­instrumental culture is borrowed from Weber’s idea of instrumental rationality. However, I have no conviction in the linear progressive connotation that has been sometimes associated with that concept. From a long­term evolutionary perspective of the Homo sapiens as a whole, instrumental behavior may not necessarily be more “rational” than norm­bound behaviors. In this article, cumulative development refers to a kind of development that leads to a quick quantitative and even qualitative expansion of social power in the society, particularly in terms of humans’ capacity to organize themselves, to articulate views, and to exploit nature for their immediate advantage. Opposite to a cumulative society is a maintenance­oriented society, where the actors’ major goal is to maintain rather than change the existing social order To place my argument within a wider context, this article often compares SA&WS Chinese history with that of second­millennium European history. However, such a comparison by no means suggests the existence of a strict parallel between the two. Even if SA&WS China had had the sociopolitical conditions similar to pre­modern Europe, without a Greek science tradition and the availability of some crucial technological breakthroughs (such as the invention of paper, gun powder and movable print), capitalism would not have been the outcome for SA&WS China. Yet what I also want to emphasize is that if SA&WS China had had sociopolitical conditions similar to pre­modern Europe, then the war­driven development would certainly not have ended with complete state domination. Also, when I compare SA&WS China with pre­modern Europe, the comparison is mainly made between China and Western Europe. To add in central European states ­ such as Germany, where its pre­modern political development showed certain similarities with China ­ is not going to invalidate my comparison. When we treat pre­modern Western and Central Europe as a single warring “world system,” it becomes immediately clear that it was the West European development that defined the history of the entire Europe and dragged the Central and some Eastern European states along the way.
6 and power relations. While cumulative development requires “rational mastery of the world,” a maintenance­oriented society needs only “rational adjustment to the world” (Weber 1951, p.248). The difference between cumulative and maintenance­oriented society is, however, only a matter of degree. The development of human societies has always been more or less cumulative. Yet, in the face of the fact that modern capitalism has expanded to a runaway scale, few will deny that some cultures accumulate much faster than others. My argument starts with this position: before the rise of capitalism and developmental nation states, the traditional economy seldom had a significant impact on social life beyond a small region, and, all states, when they became stabilized powers, were maintenance­oriented. 5 In those societies, wars were perhaps the only significant impetus for a state to act instrumentally because no state could afford to be frequently defeated by other states. To win wars, a state had to adopt measures including, but not limited to, an increase in the size of troops, improvement of weaponry and logistics, and development of extraction capacities. These processes and their spin­off effects also provide mechanisms for a quick and cumulative development in other spheres of social life. 6 This said, however, we must qualify that not all kinds of wars stimulate a state to seek changes. An extreme example is that, when a state is completely destroyed in a 5 McNeill (1982, pp.22­3), for example, argues that in the ancient word wealth had to be guided politically but the state elites had “a general distrust of and disdain for merchants and men of the marketplace. … Accordingly, trade and market­regulated behavior though present from very early times, remained marginal and subordinate in civilized societies before A.D. 1000. … Large­scale changes in human conduct, when they occurred, were more likely to be in response to commands coming from some social superior than to any change in supply and demand, buying and selling.” 6 Demographic changes also have an important impact on society (Bosrup 1981; Goldstone 1991; McNeill 1977). However, as long as the demography does not lead to the formation of a particular conflict structure that I mentioned earlier in this section, it is unlikely to lead to a quick cumulative development of the society.
7 single battle, no learning for the defeated state is possible, and such wars do not facilitate social changes in the defeated state in the above­mentioned ways (Nomadic invasion is close to this kind of warfare). In other words, the more repetitive and inconclusive the wars among the states are, the more effectively such wars stimulate the states involved to seek changes in order to win wars. In traditional societies, wars fought among the feudal states were the closest to having such a quality due to the precarious nature of the feudal arrangement and the balance of power among various states. Indeed, wars generated great dynamism in both second­millennium Europe and SA&WS China. Due to the different power configurations between the state and society, however, while the war­driven state centralization process in pre­modern Europe eventually led to the rise of capitalism, nation states, and representative government, in China a similar process ended up with the Qin unification and complete state domination. Literature While no one has attempted to address all the seven historical patterns, various arguments have been made to understand different facets of the SA&WS dynamism and patterns of Chinese history. The astonishing speed of social changes during the SA&WS era has been understood by orthodox Chinese Marxist historians in terms of a transition from slavery to feudal societies (Guo 1982; Jian 1979; Zhou 1999). On the other hand, Western Marxists, exemplified by Wittfogel’s (1957) Oriental Despotism, attribute the rise of despotic Chinese states to the necessity of supervising and maintaining large­scale irrigation works essential for agriculture. Non­Marxists understand the history differently. Inspired by Weber, Hsu (1965) sees the social changes during the SA&WS era in terms of a transition from communal to associative relations, traditional to rational­legal authority and aristocracy to meritocracy. Similarly, Huang (1997, p.34) adopts the concept “early political maturation” (similar to Weber’s idea of administrative rationalization) to characterize the emergence of bureaucratic state in China. Kiser and Cai (2003) argue that the prolonged period of large­scale long­duration warfare during the era facilitated the development of roads, provided trained and disciplined personnel and weakened the aristocratic class, which in turn gave rise to bureaucratic government. Finally, Hui (2001) observes an emergence of
8 nascent constitutionalism in both SA&WS China and early modern Europe. The difference is that “while nascent constitutional rights became institutionalized in early modern Europe, they were ultimately rolled back in ancient China.” As for the stability of China’s imperial order, Fairbank (1992), among many others, adopts the concept of “dynasty cycles” and emphasizes the importance of imperial Confucianism and the Confucian class in maintaining the cycles. Yet, more recent scholars emphasize changes in Chinese history. Judging from such indexes as level of commercialism, per capita calorie intake, and technological sophistication, they believe that China was actually more advanced or at least equal to its European counterparts until very late in world history. They, therefore, do not consider the Chinese political system as being chiefly responsible for the stagnation, and try to find answers in such differences between China and Europe as in demographic pressure (Elvin 1973; Pomerantz 2000) or key technological breakthroughs. The above­summarized theories and interpretations, while insightful, all have their own weaknesses. To fit history into a dogmatic model, Chinese Marxist historians have mistakenly characterized the imperial system formed after the Qin unification as feudal. We are also not sure, with today’s evidence, whether there were really slavery societies in China around the SA&WS era. When it comes to Wittfogel’s model, I found that large­scale canals appeared only in the later part of the SA&WS era, when the state centralization process was already under way and their initial purpose was mainly for war­related transportation rather than for agriculture. It was thus a consequence rather than the cause of a strong state. As for Hsu’s (1965) Weberian account of the SA&WS history, while it captures that period’s general tendency, it fails to see a major transition in state­society relations in that period (Hui 2001), a transition that allowed the state to harness the military, ideological and economic powers. Thus, while there was indeed a process of “rationalization” in all spheres of Chinese life, in the end only political rationalization prevailed, an outcome that Huang (1997) has astutely labeled as “early political maturation.” However, neither Hui nor Huang tries to explain what led to the observed transitions in state­society relations or the related issues that I am interested in. When it comes to Kiser and Cai’s argument, while their emphasis on the role of SA&WS warfare
9 in the early bureaucratization in China is insightful, they neglect that most large wars with longer duration in that era happened after the rise of bureaucratic states (Zhao 2004). Obviously, large wars could not be a cause of the bureaucratization in a way as they have argued. 7 I admire Fairbank’s insights on the central role of imperial Confucianism and Confucian scholars in maintaining imperial China’s political stability. What we nevertheless also need to do is to explain the domination of imperial Confucianism in the first place; for this we need to understand the SA&WS political development and its aftermath. Regarding the view that attributes China’s failure to develop capitalism to some specific differences between China and Europe that emerged during late imperial times, I stress that ever since humans started to create systematic conceptualizations of the relations between the transcendental and mundane orders, major civilizations had followed different paths before the rise of the West (Eisenstadt 1986; Jaspers 1953; Mann 1986, ch. 11). Indexes such as level of commercialism or per capita calorie intake only measure standard of living, not the existence of capitalism. This research is also inspired by the studies on the rise of modern Europe (Anderson 1974; Elias 1994; Gorski 2003; Moore 1966; Poggi 1990; Wallerstein 1979), particularly those that emphasize the role of warfare in the processes (e.g., Barbera 1998; Hale 1998; Rokkan 1975; Tilly 1975). Here, I only discuss the work by the following six prominent scholars: Charles Tilly, Brian Downing, Thomas Ertman, S. E. Finer, William 7 The problems of Kiser and Cai’s paper derive from two epistemological sources. First, while they only explain China’s earlier bureaucratization process, I also explain the other six important patterns unique to Chinese history. Understandably, a narrower scope allows them to introduce empirically irrelevant mechanisms as the explanation. Secondly, the mechanisms that they introduce to link the SA&WS warfare with the rise of bureaucratic empire are too specific. A general principle in explanation is that the more specific a mechanism the more likely it is bound by some specific historical circumstances. Therefore, inspired by Max Weber, this article traces the impact of wars on society to a more fundamental mechanism (war­driven rationalization) and treats the bureaucratization only as a partial effect of the rationalization process.
10 McNeill, and Michael Mann. Tilly (1992) aims to understand the temporal and spatial variations in the kinds of states that dominated in pre­modern Europe and the eventual rise of the nation state. He attributes considerable importance to the changing nature of warfare: the early patrimonial warfare favored large states, the mercenary warfare benefited the city states, and when the states depended on domestic populations for soldiers, nationalistic sentiment developed and large states with major cities prevailed. Downing (1992) intends to understand why some European states preserved medieval constitutionalism (which facilitated the rise of representative government later on) and others did not. His answer is straightforward: since war tends to strengthen the state power, constitutionalism was preserved in states that did not need to mobilize a large proportion of domestic resources for wars. Ertman (1997) examines why during the eighteenth century some European states developed into bureaucratic states while others remained patrimonial. He stresses the importance of the timing when a state became fully engaged in warfare: the patrimonial system developed in states that had sustained warfare before 1450 CE because without available bureaucratic models and trained personnel at the time, the state had to strengthen the patrimonial system in order to win the war. Finer (1975) argues that the military inventions in Europe changed the nature of warfare and pushed the rulers to build up their power by increasing the state’s extraction capacity, consolidating their territorial base, and promoting the functional specialization of the government. The processes encouraged state­centralization and laid the foundation of the modern nation states. McNeill (1982) argues that the “European miracles” largely benefited from Northern Song China’s economic and military achievements. Yet, in China the dynamism was eventually suppressed, whereas in Europe the states (and the churches) were not only unable to suppress the market forces, but also increasingly depended on them to finance the growing war­related expenditure. This market­warfare synergism led to the eventual rise of capitalism and nation states. Mann’s (1986, 1988) argument about the European dynamism is the hardest to summarize briefly because it includes a bit of everything. In the nutshell, however, Mann’s argument is similar to McNeill’s since they both agree that economic dynamism and inter­states warfare were twin engines of the European dynamism.
11 From these works, I have learned the impact of military technologies on other aspects of society, the complicated relationship between war­making and state­making, the role of religions (or ideologies) in regulating the war­driven dynamism, and the changing nature of various power networks in the course of history. The social mechanisms revealed in these studies will appear in various forms throughout my analysis. There are also differences between us. While the European dynamism was depicted as driven by two entwined developments (war­making and the rise of capitalism), in my analysis warfare was the only primary engine; state­making, ideological conflict and the rise of market relations were part of the result. This kind of differences is not the result of different ontological commitments between us, but has to do with the different cases we are dealing with. Furthermore, this article is not to analyze the general importance of wars in history, but to argue for the importance of a particular kind of warfare – the repeated and inconclusive wars fought among a set of rather fixed rivals – in human history. I argue that this kind of warfare is particularly conducive to the rise of rational­instrumental culture and cumulative social change. We also differ in that while they (with Mann as a partial exception) locate the European dynamism in some specific war­related mechanisms (such as Finer’s cycles and Tilly’s changing nature of warfare), I only include two general mechanisms that somehow remain implicit in the earlier analyses: the war­driven conflict, and the crystallization of power relations under different social structural conditions. In a way, my analysis is closer to Mann’s than to other war­attentive scholars. I adopt Mann’s classification of the four sources of social powers. I also accept Mann’s understanding of the impure, intertwined and changing nature of power networks. The difference is that while Mann sees the sources of social change in the changing nature of power networks themselves, I see the engine of a cumulative social change in the formation of a particular kind of war­generated conflict and treat Mann’s four sources of power networks as structural conditions that are at once shaped by the conflict and shape the nature, the development and the outcome of that conflict. Yet another competition model? This is certainly a legitimate question because, as Sahlins (1977) has keenly observed, ever since Hobbes, competition models have had multiple incarnations in the form of evolution theory, social Darwinism, Malthusian
12 theory, microeconomics, and most recently sociobiology. I have little sympathy for those theories that try to establish a mechanical link between genetics and cultural behavior. While biological evolution takes place at the level of genetic mutation and environmental selection and follows a Darwinian mechanism, social changes take place at the cultural level, and follow a Lamarckian mechanism. 8 When facing challenges, cultural systems are certainly much more adaptive and flexible than genetically programmed behaviors, but this flexibility poses a danger to humans. It has allowed humans to exploit natural resources and even tamper with natural laws for some immediate benefits, it has accelerated the change of our society to a runaway speed, it has permitted some groups to glorify their conquest of nature or other social groups as progress, and it has given human beings a scary confidence about their own rationality and righteousness. Yet, the early thinkers’ problematic efforts in linking biological evolution and social changes should not lead to a simple rejection of the merits of the conflict/competition logic, at least insofar as it provides a descriptive sociological mechanism. Few, for example, will disagree that modern microeconomic theories are at once an ideology and a reasonable model of the market system developed in the West. Also, few biologists may deny the validity of modern evolution theory just because Darwin’s initial idea of evolution may have somehow been modeled after nineteenth century English society as Marx has observed (Schmidt 1971, p.46). In our case, I suppose few serious scholars will deny the role of wars and commercial conflict/competition in fostering social changes under certain conditions. What is important is, however, to understand the differences between biological evolution and social conflicts, and to reject a linear progressive view on cultural change. Accordingly, this article is not written for the purpose of condemning imperial China’s prolonged political stagnation/stability, nor does it celebrate the rise of instrumental culture, capitalism or democracy. In this article, words such as development are used only for describing a kind of social expansion. No positive value is attached. I only aim to understand a very interesting era in Chinese history (a time when rational­ 8 The key to Lamarckian evolution theory is that the biological traits that an individual acquires through cultural activities (such as strong muscles built through physical exercises) are immediately inheritable to his/her offspring.
13 instrumental culture first spread and then retreated) and the role of war­driven conflicts in shaping the history of that era and what followed. After a methodology note, the narrative part of this article consists of the following sections. I first lay out the historical background immediately before the SA&WS period. In the next three sections, I analyze the logic of war and political changes behind each of these periods. I will also deal with such questions as how wars facilitated the rise of a rational­instrumental culture and a quick social expansion in the realms of economic, military, philosophy and politics, and how the social expansion was eventually harnessed by the political power, which led to the rise of bureaucratic state. I will also try to explain why it is Qin not other states that eventually unified China. The section that follows focuses on the logic behind the emergence of the Confucian­Legalist state after the collapse of the Qin Empire. In the concluding section, I discuss how this Confucian­Legalist political model shaped patterns of Chinese history. Readers may notice that while this article emphasizes the importance of warfare at particular junctures of history, I have no commitment to a bellicose paradigm, which sees human history as largely war driven and that the raison d’être of the state is for war. As this article shows amply, the war­driven conflict and its aftermath contributed to the rise of the Confucian­ Legalist state. Yet, after the occurrence of this political crystallization, what shaped Chinese history for over the next 2,000 years were a combination of politics and culture (Confucianism). Methodology This research employs both qualitative and quantitative methods. On the quantitative side, one of my major efforts is to quantify a total of 866 wars as recorded in the historical sources. On the wars during the Spring­Autumn (770­481 BCE) era, I rely on Zuo’s Commentary and Records of the Grand Historian (Records hereafter). On the Warring States (480­221 BCE) warfare, I combine the records from the following sources: Records (A Tabulated Chronology of the Six Warring States), The Military History of China (Fu 1985), The History of Warring States (Yang 1998), The History of Qin (Lin 1981) and The History of Zhao (Shen et al. 2000).
14 I collect the following information on each war recorded in the sources (if they are available): The year and season when a particular war broke out; the distance that an attacking army traveled to the battlefield (war distance); the number of states involved in a war; the duration that a war lasted; the number of soldiers involved and the death toll figures of a war, the reasons behind the outbreak of a war; and finally whether a particular state was eliminated in a war. Since my focus is interstate warfare, instances of domestic strife are not counted. However, for those domestic wars that dragged in other states, they will also be counted as interstate wars. One of the major difficulties of this part of the research is to measure the war distance. For most wars it is measured based on the maps published in Maps of Historical China (Tan 1982). In a few cases when I see that the historical maps definitely contain errors, I further consulted The Major Events of the Spring­Autumn Era compiled by the renowned Qing scholar Gu Donggao (1679­ 1759) (Gu 1993). For more details on other issues involved in the measurement, please see Zhao (2005). On the qualitative side, I have read and become familiar with almost all of the primary textual materials and most secondary writings on that period. I have also traveled in China for over a month to visit museums and archeological sides, to discuss my ideas with Chinese archeologists and historians, and to travel through the terrains where the major wars were fought. Through the fieldtrip, I am now more familiar with the material side of the civilization and better able to contextualize the textual sources. I also have attained a much better understanding on things such as why a particular war was fought at a particular location and why a particular place became a strategic military path at a particular time. In this article, the two most cited primary sources are Zuo’s Commentary and Records. Therefore, I need to say a little more about them for non­China specialists. Zuo’s Commentary is an extended commentary on the Spring­Autumn Annals, which is in turn a chronologically arranged work that recorded the history of the state of Lu from 722 to 481 BCE. The highly compact Annals only contains around 18,000 Chinese characters. Later scholars tried to unpack the information by writing commentaries on it, and Zuo’s Commentary is the most lengthy and systematic one of such commentaries. Although historians still debate about the origin of the text and its relationship with
15 Annals, it is generally believed that the book appeared in the beginning of the Warring States era and continued to receive modifications up until the Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE) (Cheng 1993, pp.67­76; Song 1989). It is by far the most important source on the history of the SW&WA era. Records was compiled and written by Sima Qian (ca. 145 ­ ? BCE). The original work has 130 volumes with a total of 526,500 Chinese characters. It covers the history of China since the beginning to the early Han Dynasty. Except for ten volumes that were missing and then recompiled by later scholars, the rest was all written by Sima Qian himself. Till this day, Records has been regarded by historians as the greatest work in Chinese historiography. Scholars often marvel at the quality of the information contained in both sources. The astronomic records in Zuo’s Commentary, for example, are so precise that modern astronomers use them as the bases of their calculation. Even for the other types of data that are more subject to biases and distortions, as Shaughnessy (1999) has observed, many of them tend to be confirmed rather than discredited by archaeological sources. Still, I have used the data in both books with great caution and rely more on the evidence that is less subject to systematic distortion (such as the war data that I have gathered) to reconstruct the historical dynamism of that period. Of the two books, Zuo’s Commentary is chronologically ordered and Records is arranged by topics such as the history of a state, the biography of an individual, the economic history of a period, etc. Accordingly, historians have developed different ways to cite them, and this article will follow the convention. When I cite Zuo’s Commentary (Ai 12), it means that the cited reference is contained in the record under the twelfth year of the reign of Duke Ai of Lu (that is, 483 BCE). Also, when I cite Records, I always specify in parentheses the particular chapter where the material can be found (e.g., Biography of Su Qin or History of Yue). Citations of the other primary sources also follow the convention set by sinologists and historians. The Western Zhou Order and Its Decline To understand SA&WS history, we need to begin with the Western Zhou legacies. The Western Zhou Dynasty (ca. 1066­771 BCE) was founded by a confederation of Zhou­Jiang tribes after they overthrew the Shang Dynasty. In the
16 founding years, the Zhou rulers faced serious threats from both ambitious family members and remaining Shang aristocrats. In response, the new Zhou rulers did several things that might have been pure improvisations compelled by the historical circumstances but nevertheless had long­term impact on Chinese history. To reconcile with the conquered population, the Zhou rulers justified their rule on the ground that the Shang King had lost the Mandate of Heaven to the Zhou due to their bad rule. 9 This idea, which was at the time just propaganda, was later canonized by the Confucian thinkers to become the foundation of state­legitimation of imperial China (Creel 1970; Shaughnessy 1999). To consolidate their rule, the Zhou rulers also established many feudal states (dukedoms) in strategic locations headed mostly by members of the royal family. As the population of these states grew, we saw the emergence of Zhou cities. Therefore, Zhou cities originated not as economic, but as military and political, centers. Neither money nor a clear private ownership of land existed. The Zhou people’s skill in casting bronze vessels and making other handicrafts had reached an astonishing level. Yet, the archeological evidence thus far shows that they were mostly made in the official workshops. The SA&WS period began with a very elementary economic foundation. The people living in Zhou were under two categories – city people (guo­ren) and the country folks (ye­ren). The city people were mostly Zhou descendants. They were obliged to fight in time of war. In the meantime, they paid less tax, had the right to receive public education and were consulted when the government made important decisions. 10 The country folk were natives before the arrival of the Zhou people. They had no obligation to fight in wars, but paid more tax and did not have the privileges that the city people enjoyed. During Western Zhou, many territories were still uncontrolled by 9 The Mandate of Heaven means that the ruler holds a sacred right to rule from heaven so long as he takes good care of his subjects, but he faces the peril of overthrow if he fails to fulfill such duty. 10 The public school taught the following six subjects: rites, music, archery, charioteering, writing, and arithmetic.
17 any state system. 11 The social cage was not yet closed, and consequently, the Western Zhou city states were generally not despotic. 12 To control the vassal states, Zhou rulers also instituted a patrilineal system with a complicated set of rites to regulate the behavior of aristocrats on various social occasions, including (but not limited to) ancestor worship, marriages, funeral, tribute, music and dress codes. When the war­driven social change swept away much of the Zhou political order, the Chinese philosophers of the time, in particular those we now call Confucians, often found their inspiration from patrilineal ideals in theorizing the bases of a good society. The Zhou feudal system was nevertheless intrinsically unstable. As time passed by, some vassal states rose to become local powers while the blood bond between the King and the Dukes weakened. Historians consider the year 770 BCE, when the Zhou ruling house under the military pressure of nomads and several renegade vassal states moved its capital eastward to Chengzhou (modern Luoyang), as the starting point of the SA&WS era. While Zhou (now called Eastern Zhou) still existed for another five hundred years or so, its authority over the feudal states quickly diminished, and wars among the feudal states became increasingly common. Historians have divided the SA&WS period into the Spring­Autumn (770­481 BCE) and the Warring States (480­221 BCE) periods. In an article published in a history journal, Zhao (2005) has discussed the weaknesses of this periodization and proposed a tripartite scheme based on the changing nature of warfare: the age of hegemons (770­546 BCE), of transition (546­419 BCE) and of total wars (419­211 BCE). In the next three sections, I discuss how the wars in conjunction with other structural conditions shaped the development in each of the three periods, which led to the rise of rational­instrumental culture, and how the “fruit” of the 11 Zuo’s Commentary (Ai 12) records that a large amount of land between Zheng and Song was still not controlled by either state as late as the sixth century BCE. 12 Mann (1986, ch.3) has used the caging metaphor to capture the role of alluvial agriculture in the rise of civilizations. Chirot (1985) also emphasizes the importance of the exit option among fragmented states in Western Europe in limiting the capacity of complete state domination and preserving the European pluralism.
18 SA&WS development was harnessed by the state. Readers should note that what is presented in the following three sections is not a linear account of how warfare led to the rise of bureaucratic state, but a dialectical story in which the nature of warfare and forms of the state mutually shaped each other and in the end led to the Qin unification and the rise of bureaucratic state. The Age of Hegemons (770­546 BCE) In the age of hegemons, the military capacity of feudal states was weak. Although many small states were eliminated, no state was strong enough to conquer another major power. The purposes of wars at this stage were not only territorial expansion but also booty and domination. The institutionalization of the domination led to the rise of a hegemon­system. Under the system, a hegemon provided protection to the subordinate state and the subordinate state contributed troops and supplies in times of war and accepted control by the hegemon on matters ranging from power succession to interstate politics. The most important hegemons at the time were Jin and Chu. They were archrivals and their conflicts spread an instrumental culture. The Early SA&WS Warfare Most Chinese historians believe that the age of hegemons was alternatively dominated by five or six states (Cao 1992; Gu and Zhu 2001; Hsu 1999, Xu 1996). In fact, early in this period, most feudal states were militarily weak and only able to engage in brief wars in their vicinity. My war data show clearly the existence of four major war­ zones early in this period – the central­plain zone in the east, the Chu­zone in the south, the Jin­zone in the north, and the Qin­zone in the west (figure 1). Four states, that is, Qi, Chu, Jin and Qin, eventually dominated in each of these four zones. At the time, any state, once establishing its regional domination, tried to expand its influence to the central­plain. The central plain was the most developed area and the place where the Zhou capital was located. To dominate the whole of China proper, a state needed either to eliminate or to utilize the Zhou king, who at this stage was still a rallying power. Therefore, all the three hegemons outside the central­plain had tried to extend their influence to the region, which triggered confrontations among these major powers
19 and facilitated the merger of the four war zones into one. To illustrate this point, let us focus on how Chu expanded its territory and influence toward the central plain. In 710 BCE, Zuo’s Commentary (Huan 2) records that the dukes of Cai and Zheng met to discuss the issue of Chu’s northward expansion. This is the first time that Chu appears in Zuo’s Commentary. In the following years, Chu’s military activities are recorded in Zuo’s Commentary in increasing detail, which allows us to recapture what might have happened. In short, Chu’s major obstacle en route to the central plain was the state of Sui. Here, Zuo’s Commentary records three major battles between Chu and Sui (706, 704, 690 BCE), and finally in 690 BCE, Chu forced Sui into submission. Meanwhile, Chu also had battles with Deng (703, 687 BCE), Xun (701 BCE), Jiao (700 BCE), Luo (699 BCE) and Shen (687 BCE). In 684 BCE, Chu invaded Cai and by 678 BCE, Chu troops reached Zheng, a major central plain state (figure 1). The time between 656 BCE (the year when Qi and Chu started to confront each other) and 628 BCE (when Qin lost a major battle with Jin) were perhaps the most colorful period in the age of hegemons. Here, we see four powerful states (Chu, Jin, Qi and Qin), all headed by very able dukes, locked in intriguing interstate politics and competing for significance in the central plains. Their splendid careers created much fodder for historical and literary imagination in Chinese history. In 643 BCE, Duke Huan of Qi died. With his death came palace intrigues and succession crises, and Qi’s power weakened. Qin’s hegemonic position was also short­ lived. In 628 BCE, the Qin army attacked Zheng. This was a deadly mistake because not only Zheng was far away from Qin (580 km between the two capitals), in order to attack Zheng the Qin troop had to pass an area under Jin’s sphere of influence. Therefore, on their way back, the Qin troops were ambushed by the Jin army. The entire Qin army, 300 chariots in total, was wiped out, making it one of the very few large battles in the age of hegemons. 13 Qin’s setback left only two major contenders, Chu and Jin, that competed for domination in the next hundred years or so. 13 Zuo’s Commentary and other historical sources have recorded the scale of a Spring­Autumn war and the death toll by the numbers of chariots. It is generally believed that a chariot at that time was accompanied by between 30 and 75 soldiers.
20 The Rise of Rational­Instrumental Culture Based on patrilineal ideals, the founders of the Western Zhou Dynasty developed a complicated set of rites to regulate the conduct of aristocratic families in almost every sphere of social life. Over the course of several hundred years, the rituals became a major part of political culture, and during the early SA&WS period the conduct of the aristocrats was still heavily influenced by this legacy. Yet, to survive the war game, the rulers had to take winning wars or sheer survival as primary goals. The war­driven conflict thus stimulated the rise of rational­instrumental culture first in warfare and then in other spheres of social life. The influence of traditional morality on warfare can be illustrated by Duke Xiang of Song’s (r. 650­637 BCE) conduct in a battle between Song and Chu in 638 BCE (Zuo’s Commentary, Xi 22). Before the battle, while the Song army already assembled in a combat formation along a river, the Chu troops were still crossing the river. Ziyu (Song’s Chief Councilor) suggested launching an attack while the Chu army was still in the river, but Duke Xiang rejected the idea on the ground that: “Gentlemen do not kill the wounded and do not capture soldiers with grey hairs. Not to attack enemy troops at the passes was an ancient tradition. … [It is, therefore, not honorable] to attack enemy troops before they have deployed the troops into battle formation.” Duke Xiang’s obstinacy allowed the Chu soldiers to pass the river and reassemble into a fighting array. The battle was a fiasco for Song: Its army was defeated with all of Duke Xiang’s bodyguards killed, and the Duke himself seriously wounded and soon dead. Such ritualistic behavior was already in a considerable decline at the time of this battle. Even Zuo’s Commentary (Xi 22), a historical document seriously influenced by Confucian moral teaching, positively records Ziyu’s rebuttal to Duke Xiang’s argument: “ … If a wounded enemy soldier is still alive, why cannot we kill him? If one has sympathy for a wounded enemy soldier, one should not have injured him in the first place; if one has compassion for grey­haired soldiers, it is better to surrender than to fight. An army ought to engage in a battle under favorable conditions. … There is nothing wrong to ambush enemies at the passes. … There is also nothing wrong to attack
21 enemies before they have the opportunity to assemble into a good fighting formation.” Clearly, instrumentalism dominated in Ziyu’s understanding of warfare. During the age of hegemons, Jin, Chu, Qi and Qin were able to become major powers partly because they were the pioneers of efficiency­based, “ends justify the means” kind of war strategizing. Let me briefly describe two battles. The first one was between Chu and Jin in 627 BCE. At the time the two armies were stationed on the opposite sides of the Zhi River, but neither wanted to cross the river to launch an attack. In fact, perhaps as a trick, the Chu troops even withdrew a certain distance, claiming to create a space for the Jin troops to pass the river safely, but the Jin army still decided not to take the risk for fear that they would be attacked while crossing the river. The second battle was between Jin and Qin in 628 BCE. On that occasion, the Qin army was ambushed at a mountain pass (considered as an immoral act in the past). This was also among the very few battles before the age of total war whose main purpose was to eliminate an entire enemy army, and Jin did it purposefully. As Xian Zhen, a Jin minister, argued, if Jin did not take the chance to eliminate the Qin troops, Jin was going to be pressured by Qin in years to come (Zuo’s Commentary, Xi 33). The defeat might have indeed created a demographic disaster for Qin as the Jin minister had intended. Qin was unable to push its influence back to the central plain for over a hundred years after this setback. With the major states in the lead, smaller states had to follow. For example, located between Chu and Jin, Zheng was the focal point of military conflict between the two states. Zheng’s unfortunate geopolitical location, however, fostered a quick rise of instrumentalism in that state. During the entire age of hegemons, the records in Zuo’s Commentary show that Zheng had to shift its allegiance over twenty times between the two hegemons. What happened was that once Zheng aligned with one state, another state would force Zheng to switch its allegiance by invading Zheng. Soon Zheng policy makers decided to ally with whatever the state that was invading them in order to avoid being attacked. This is how prince Ziliang justified such a policy in 598 BCE (Zuo’s Commentary, Xuang 11): “Jin and Chu have based their power not on moral superiority but on sheer military might. Accordingly, we should ally with whichever state that has come to attack us. Why should we act honorably when neither Jin nor Chu has a sense of
22 honor?” The military pressure from the two hegemons fostered a pragmatic mentality among Zheng politicians. It is no wonder that Zheng was the first state to publish its legal codes in 536 BCE on a tripod and to perform a series of reforms that few states at the time could match. It is also not a surprise that Zichan, the foremost reformer of the time, emerged in Zheng, and not in the other states. Bureaucratization and Secondary Feudalization The states that had expanded territories had to find ways to control them. 14 Two approaches existed at the time. The first was to appoint officials to manage the new administrative unit called county, 15 an action that kicked off an early, more primitive wave of bureaucratization. 16 The second was to grant the new lands to aristocrats in a form of fief. This was the secondary feudalization (Hsu 1999; Lü 1998). 17 Although bureaucratization and feudalization were two parallel processes, the latter was certainly a 14 Both the early bureaucracy and the secondary feudalization appeared during the seventh century BCE, around the same time many states expanded their territories. 15 The county system is also called the prefecture­county system. When prefectures first formed, they were mostly located in remote areas with low population density. Therefore, although the territory of a prefecture was larger than that of a county, its status was lower. Later, with population increase, counties were established within a prefecture as the next administrative unit. The prefecture became a higher­level administrative unit, thus the formation of the prefecture­county system. 16 See Zhao (2004). In response to Zhao’s (2004) criticism, Kiser and Cai (2004) questioned the existence of bureaucratization in Chu at this stage based on three Weberian criteria of bureaucracy. I would like to stress that the county officials in Chu were appointed on the basis of merits and monitored by the central authorities (Li 2002, pp.122­38). They satisfied two of the three Weberian criteria. 17 In the sixth century BCE, tertiary feudalization (the ministers further parceled out their land to their retainers as fiefs) also happened in some states. However, in terms of its impact on the SA&WS development, the tertiary feudalization was minimal in comparison to that of the secondary feudalization.
23 dominant force in shaping the historical dynamism. In other words, overall war increased the power of aristocrats at this stage (Zhao 2004). 18 However, the states that had experienced secondary feudalization in the end all ran into the same problem: as time went, the feudal ministers accumulated more and more power at the expense of the dukes. Such a change in power structure induced conflicts between the dukes and feudal ministers (often in the latter’s favor) and among the feudal ministers. As the conflicts deepened, it led to the crisis of the entire feudal political framework, including the hegemon system. The Age of Transition (546­413 BCE) The feudal arrangement grown out of the age of hegemons produced its own contradictions and led to the collapse of the hegemon system. The age of transition was, therefore, simultaneously a period of decay and renewal. It started with the acceleration of the feudal crisis, a process that led to the eventual partition of Jin by its three remaining feudal ministers and the transition of the Duke’s power to the feudal ministers in many other states. In the process of the decay of the feudal order, however, we see the emergence of a new state form ­ bureaucratic states. It is, therefore, very natural for us to start this part of the history with the feudal crisis. The Feudal Crisis The problems of secondary feudalization emerged in various states at a similar pace. In Jin, for instance, ever since Duke Ling’s (r. 620­607 BCE) assassination by Zhao Chuan, the struggle between the duke and the feudal ministers and among the ministers never stopped. By the time Duke Ping (557­532 BCE) was enthroned, Jin politics was almost completely dominated by the six feudal ministers. In Qi, after the death of Duke Hui (r. 608­599 BCE), politics also became increasingly dominated by the powerful feudal ministers. By the middle of the sixth century BCE, the power of the ministers’ 18 Here, my analysis is consistent with Ertman’s (1997) argument that European warfare before 1450 CE facilitated the patrimonial administrations because no bureaucratic models or trained personnel were available at the time.
24 families had grown so strong that, of the five dukes enthroned between 553 and 481 BCE, four were killed by powerful aristocrats. Zhao (2005) has reported a positive correlation between the strength of the feudal aristocratic families in a state and the percentage of the dukes killed during the reign (r 2 = 0.66). The finding also shows that close to half of the dukes in Lu, Qi and Jin (the three states where secondary feudalization went the furthest) were killed during the reign in the entire Spring­Autumn period. The dukes and politicians at the time were keenly aware of the problems, 19 and this became a major impetus for the later Legalist reforms. Among the states experiencing the feudal crisis, the larger ones had more problems. Aristocrats had the potential to gain more territory and power in large states. The more power that the aristocrats had, the more stakes they had in protecting it. The feudal crisis, therefore, went deeper in Jin and Qi than in other smaller states. Of all the feudal crises, Jin’s was no doubt the most crucial one. Of the seven major bureaucratic states emerging during the age of total war, three were created by the feudal families who partitioned Jin in 453 BCE. It was the feudal crisis in Jin that triggered the collapse of the hegemon system and stimulated the waves of reforms afterward. Feudal Constraint on Warfare Since the feudal crisis was a direct consequence of territorial expansion, many states were no longer interested in territory after the crisis became apparent. This greatly changed the nature of warfare. Early during the age of hegemons, a major goal of waging wars was to acquire new land and many states were eliminated as a result. Now, with the decline of the territorial ambition, the number of states eliminated quickly diminished. I 19 Zuo’s Commentary fills with stories on how the powerful feudal domains posed dangers for the central state. Shen Wuyu, a sixth century BCE Chu politician, once used “the tail wagging the dog” metaphor to warn the Chu King of the danger when the feudal domain grew too strong (Discourses of the States, Chu, part I). Mencius’ famous line: “The five hegemons were criminals to the three kings, today’s dukes are the criminals to the five hegemons, and today’s ministers are criminals to the dukes,” also very nicely summarized the Confucian perspective on the feudal instability (Mencius, 6B2, p.287).
25 have calculated that, the total number of states eliminated as the result of wars was thirty­ nine in the seventh century BCE, while in the sixth century BCE (the century when the feudal crisis greatly deepened) the total number of conquered states decreased to twenty. 20 If we look at what happened in Jin, the trend becomes even stronger. In the Records and Zuo’s Commentary, it is recorded that Jin conquered a total of seventeen states in the seventh century BCE (before 593 BCE, prior to the deepening of the feudal crisis). In the years between 592 and 453 BCE (Jin was partitioned by three feudal ministers in that year), however, Jin only conquered three states. Even so, Jin gave the state of Fuyang away to Song after it was conquered. To give away conquered land to other states was not uncommon when the feudal crisis ran deep. A widely known story was that Goujian, the King of Yue (r. 497­465 BCE), after eliminating Wu, gave away a large part of the conquered territory to the neighboring states and meanwhile killed one and let go another of the two ministers who were crucial to Yue’s military success (Records, History of Yue). Chinese historiography has attributed the outcomes to Goujian’s personality – he was generally portrayed as a person who could only “share bitter not sweet with others”. In the light of our discussion, however, we may consider Goujian as an astute politician. When Yue conquered Wu in 473 BCE, the feudal crisis was in a high gear and Jin would soon be partitioned. It was very likely that Goujian got rid of his two most able ministers instead of awarding them feudal domains simply because he did not want to see what had occurred in Jin soon happen in Yue. The 546 BCE Truce and Collapse of the Hegemon System The 546 BCE truce agreement signed by Jin, Chu and many other smaller states was a turning point in SA&WS history. It signaled the fall of the hegemon system that had existed for about two centuries. It also deepened the scale of feudal crisis in several major states and facilitated the rise of bureaucratic states. By the middle of the sixth 20 The decline in the number of the states eliminated was not because fewer states existed to be conquered. Many small states survived until very late during the age of total war (See also note 22).
26 century BCE, both Jin and Chu faced problems that forced them to the negotiating table. Jin accepted the 546 BCE truce because of an internal feudal crisis. The Jin aristocratic families gradually gained domination after Duke Ling was killed by a Jin aristocrat family in 607 BCE. By the middle of the sixth century BCE, Jin’s aristocrats became so powerful that the dukes were not their real superiors or even their equals. Most domestic strife in Jin involved the powerful aristocratic families. 21 Jin politics was so troubled by internal aristocratic rivalries that coherent interstate policy became impossible. This laid the background for Jin to have a truce agreement with its arch­enemy Chu. Chu also wanted a truce, but for a different reason. Chu had a more elaborate bureaucracy and more centralized state, and thus did not experience the problem of feudal crisis (Zhao 2004). What brought Chu to the negotiation table was geopolitics. Early in the age of the hegemons, Chu was the only powerful state in the south. Yet the rise of Wu in the southeast after 584 BCE posed an increasingly serious threat to Chu. Facing enemies on two fronts, Chu was also interested in a truce agreement with Jin. The 546 BCE truce marked the ending of the hegemonic politics. Most historians believe that the hegemonic politics spanned the entire Spring­Autumn period. The fact is, while other states did show hegemonic ambitions after the 546 BCE truce, they never quite achieved that goal. When a hegemon initiated a war, it often demanded its allies to join. An army headed by Jin, for example, could sometimes include troops from as many as thirteen states. This aspect of hegemonic warfare allows us to test whether hegemonic politics existed after the 546 BCE truce by comparing the average numbers of states involved in a battle before and after 546 BCE. My argument is supported if we see a sharp decline in the average number of states involved in a war after 546 BCE. I choose 611­546 BCE and 546­481 BCE as the two periods for the comparison. The comparison ended in 481 BCE because it is commonly considered as the end of the Spring­Autumn era. Since 546­481 BCE covers a span of 65 years, I adopt 611 BCE as the starting year to make the comparison chronologically symmetrical. 21 Some examples of such conflicts will appear in the next section, where I discuss Fan Wenzi’s political wisdom.
27 The result shows that before 546 BCE the average number of states involved in battles initiated by Jin or Chu was 4.0, but the same figure was reduced to 2.35 after 546 BCE. The decline of Jin and Chu’s hegemonic status after 546 BCE was real (p<0.0001). As for whether such a decline was compensated by the emergence of other hegemons, I calculated the average number of states involved in battles initiated by Wu, Yue, Qi or Qin (the four potential candidates for hegemons), and the result was only 2.14 before 546 BCE and 2.41 after that (p=0.13). Even if we consider only Wu, the most highly acclaimed candidate for the new hegemonic status, the average number of states in battles initiated by Wu from before to after 546 BCE only increased from 2.0 to 2.68 (p=0.02). While the result shows that Wu’s bid for hegemonic status was genuine, the 2.68 figure is not significantly higher than 2.35 (the average number of states in battles initiated by Jin or Chu after 546 BCE) (p=0.4). In other words, the numbers of states that Jin, Chu and Wu were able to mobilize as allies in battles were pretty much the same even when Wu’s power was at its prime. 22 Behind these numbers is the fact that, once Jin and Chu had faded out in the hegemonic competition, the other states naturally tried to fill the niche. In their hegemonic bid, Wu’s performance was certainly the most impressive. Yet associated with Wu’s military success was overexpansion. When Wu’s army was away in the north in 482 BCE, Yue sacked the Wu capital, and later eliminated it in 473 BCE. Yue also bid for hegemonic status afterward, but it never went as far as Wu. The consequence of this is that, while several states tried to claim hegemons after the 546 BCE truce, the historical dynamism hinged on the development in Jin. It was the metamorphosis of Jin that brought about the birth of new types of states and styles of warfare, which, in the end, paved the road to the Qin unification. The Collapse of Jin and the Rise of Bureaucratic States 22 It could be argued that the average number of states involved in a battle declined after 546 BCE because most states had been eliminated. However, based on my calculation, some fifty states still existed in China by 546 BCE. In 506 BCE, Jin was still able to organize an interstate meeting joined by nineteen states.
28 After the 546 BCE truce, Chu was weakened for a period under Wu’s military pressure. What drove the historical dynamism was the development in Jin. The feudal crisis had already haunted Jin for quite a while. The importance of the 546 BCE truce was that, once a major outside threat disappeared, the internal conflicts resulting from the feudal crisis ran rampant. The truce agreement, in this way, fostered the collapse of Jin. Zuo’s Commentary records a conversation between Fan Wenzi, then Jin’s Chief Councilor, and Luan Shu and Xi Zhi, two other Jin ministers. In the said conversation, Fan stressed the importance for Jin to have Chu as an arch­enemy: Our ancestors waged a lot of wars because at that time Qin, Di, Qi and Chu were all very powerful. If our ancestors had not fought hard, their lineages would have withered. Now, three of our contenders are weakened. The only enemy left for us is Chu. I know only a saint could achieve a status that is free from both external threats and domestic problems. Since we are not saints, once we are free from the external threat, internal troubles are bound to run deep. Why not let’s keep Chu as an external threat to allow us to stay alert? At the time when Fan Wenzi made these remarks, Luan Shu and Xi Zhi’s families were already in a serious conflict. A year earlier in 576 BCE, Xi Zhi’s family killed Bozong, a Jin minister, and a year later in 574 BCE, the whole lineage of Xi Zhi’s family was eliminated in a palace intrigue. Therefore, Fan Wenzi’s political wisdom, which shares great similarities with the Simmelian insight that external conflicts are functional for internal cohesion, was at the time obviously a reflection of reality. After 546 BCE, Jin’s involvement in interstate rivalry quickly declined. Between 546 and 481 BCE, Jin actively initiated only fifteen battles but was attacked eight times. In the same length of period before the 546 BCE truce, Jin waged fifty battles but was only attacked by other states eleven times. This was not because Jin’s total military capacity had declined. Trying to regain its hegemonic status, in 529 BCE, Jin organized an interstate meeting in which fourteen states attended. To show its military might, Jin also sent 4,000 chariots of troops along with its envoy to the meeting. Yet, the show of
29 force could not hide the internal conflicts that were there for all to see. Therefore, it is recorded in Zuo’s Commentary (Zhao 13) that, even during the meeting, Zichan, Zheng’s chief councilor, openly accused Jin of demanding too much tribute from the small states and successfully pushed them to lower the quotas. Afterward, Zitaishu, another Zheng minister, reproached Zichan for his action: “You should not have done that. Do you know that what you have done could invite an invasion from Jin?” To this Zichan replied: “The Jin state is now controlled by several powerful families, each with conflicts of interests. They are busily trying to muddle along in the sea of internal conflicts. How can they find energy to wage wars against another state?” Beginning in the fifth century BCE, the six major Jin aristocratic families started military confrontation. In 453 BCE, the three surviving families divided the Jin territory and formed three new states ­ Wei, Han and Zhao (the so­called three­Jins). The three­ Jins faced two immediate challenges. First, since they were the beneficiaries of the feudal crisis, they knew best the root cause of it. Even before they divided Jin, the three­Jins had already appointed meritocratically­selected bureaucrats to manage the counties under their control and engaged in reforms ranging from land tenure and taxation to the legal system. Now, with full power in hand, they naturally wanted to adopt a system that could be freed from the root problems that had induced the feudal crisis. Secondly, after dividing Jin, the Three­Jins (especially the state of Wei) were now in a geopolitically disadvantageous position. Wei not only faced potential enemies on all fronts, but also inherited a two­part territory that was linked only by a thin corridor in the north in the Shangdang region. Facing the above two problems, Wei first launched a legalist reform and turned itself into a bureaucratic state. Strengthened by the reform, Wei started military expansion in 419 BCE, thus ushering in the age of total war. War­Driven Reforms Incessant wars stimulated the rise of rational­instrumental culture, first in the military and then spreading to the spheres of politics, economics and philosophy. By the time of the age of transition, business and market relations started to blossom, and in the realm of philosophy a few learned men started to reflect on issues ranging from social relations to cosmic order in a systematic manner. Since the new economic relations and
30 philosophical reflections were going to flourish further, the topic will be left for later sections. Here, I shall discuss the state­initiated reforms that had happened thus far to see how the wars and the rise of instrumental culture were closely linked. We do not know exactly when the first reform was started in the SA&WS era, but it is very clear that most reform measures were the result of the new circumstances arising from the warfare. As mentioned earlier, states such as Chu, Jin and Qin improvised a county system to manage the land they had newly acquired through military expansion. To fight wars, a state needed money and manpower. Most early reforms centered on these issues. For instance, in 645 BCE, after being seriously defeated by Qin, the Jin government encouraged both city people and country folks to cultivate wasteland in the countryside, collected tax on that land, and meanwhile started to recruit soldiers from this sector of the population (Zuo’s Commentary, Xi 15). Such a policy blurred the traditional lines between city dwellers and country folks and possibly indicated the rise of private ownership of land. Also, in 589 BCE, Lu invented military tax. What happened was that to oppose Jin, Qi aligned with Chu in that year. Since Qi and Lu were old foes and Lu was located somewhere between Qi and Chu, the Qi­Chu alliance pushed Lu to ally with Jin and meanwhile to raise money to prepare for an impending war (Zuo’s Commentary, Cheng 1). These early reforms soon became a trend. We see records on how under Qi’s military pressure Lu further modified its taxation system in 483 BCE, 23 and how, in 408 BCE, facing the military pressure from Wei, Qin adopted a taxation system similar to what Lu had adopted in 594 BCE (Records, History of Qin). Not all the reforms were direct reactions to military pressure. A state sometimes also actively sought reforms to strengthen itself. Therefore, behind the rise of a hegemon, we see substantial reforms prior to that. Qi’s rise to hegemonic status around the middle of the seventh century BCE had a lot to do with the reform measures implemented by 23 In that year, Wu and Lu had just defeated Qi. For fear that Qi was going to retaliate, Lu strengthened its defense system and implemented a new taxation system based on the amount of land a family owned. See Zuo’s Commentary (Ai 12).
31 Guan Zhong, and Jin’s rise to power benefited from the reforms by Duke Wen of Jin (r. 636­628 BCE) and his followers. 24 Since the reforms were often direct responses to the military needs, states facing stronger military pressure tended to initiate more drastic reforms. This is why Zichan, a legendary reformer of the age, emerged in Zheng. Zichan initiated many reforms in his life, but his most remarkable act was to place a tripod inscribed with Zheng’s legal codes in a public place in 536 BCE (Zuo’s Commentary, Zhao 6). We know nothing about the contents of the inscriptions, but judging by the objections from the aristocrats, it had to be an extraordinary act. Shuxiang, a Jin minister and personal friend of Zichan, for instance, immediately wrote to Zichan to express his strong objection. Shuxiang argued: “When the people know about the laws, authorities will no longer be respected and desires for contestation will grow ever stronger.” “[The laws] will allow the people to understand where their interests and conflicts lie. The people will thus only follow the legal codes and abandon moral decorum. They are also going to fight hard by relying on even the most minor distinctions in the language of the law. Legal cases are going to increase daily and bribing will become the norm.” Zichan, of course, rejected Shuxiang’s criticism. He replied: “I do not have the ability to follow what you have suggested and do not have the time and energy to think of posterity. I have only the capacity to use the laws to deal with current problems.” As a statesman himself, Shuxiang probably would not have objected to adopting any legal measures by a state. What Shuxiang really worried about was that once people were allowed to have equal access to the law, instrumental rationalism would develop rapidly, thereby undermining the already shaky Zhou moral and social order. Shuxiang’s concern is, therefore, a good footnote to the spread of instrumental culture at the time. The Zichan­Shuxiang debate also predated the later Legalist­Confucian 24 Zuo’s Commentary (Wen 6) recorded how Zhao Dun, after having been promoted to the Chief Councilor in Jin, established legal codes and regulations, encouraged the use of contract and various book­keeping practices in economic activities, and strengthened the state bureaucracy by a clearer ranking system and selected officials based on their merits.
32 controversy in the age of total war and many new incarnations throughout the history of China until the present day. The reforms before the age of total war touched almost every sphere of life. Yet, in comparison with the later reforms, these early reforms were not ideologically guided and much less systematic; they were often improvised to solve some emerging problems of the time. Yet these reforms were crucial not only because they strengthened state power, but also because they changed the nature of the state and society and accumulated experiences for the coming legalist reforms during the age of total war, an era to which we will now turn. The Age of Total War (419­211 BCE) The years from the three­Jins’ partitioning of Jin in 453 BCE to the beginning of the age of total war in 419 BCE were relatively quiet in terms of the frequency and scale of warfare. Available records show only a total of ten minor military encounters during that period. Yet, behind the seeming quietness thunderstorms were looming. Between these years, Wei carried out far­reaching reforms guided by legalist doctrines. With a greatly enhanced state power derived from the reform, Wei started its military expansion by attacking Qin in 419 BCE. Wei’s ascendancy posed threats to the neighboring states and waves of reforms ensued. This kind of reforms­warfare synergy led to the rise of total war, and paved the way for China’s unification. The new total wars had much to do with the legalist reforms. The reform not only enhanced the territorial desire of the states involved, but also greatly increased state power that made total wars technically possible. In order to understand the age of total war, we need to start with the background that gave rise to the legalist philosophy. The Hundred Schools of Thought The feudal crisis weakened the power of the states. As a result, around the sixth century BCE, the public education system institutionalized during the Western Zhou gradually collapsed. The collapse also overlapped with two related transformations in the society. The first was the rise of meritocratic bureaucracy and the second was the spread of a rational­instrumental culture. The rise of meritocratic bureaucracy greatly increased
33 the demand for educated people at the same time when the public education system collapsed. 25 Correspondingly, some public school teachers started to earn their living by offering private education. The rise of rational culture facilitated newly emergent private educators in forging a systematic understanding of a chaotic age in which they lived, thus leading to the boom in early Chinese philosophy known as the “hundred schools of thought.” It is impossible to do justice to the early philosophies in a short paragraph. What is most relevant here, however, is that the three important schools later know as Confucianism, Legalism and Daoism offered their followers very different understanding of, and solution to, this war­ridden era. The Confucians believed that the political chaos was caused by the growing ambiguities in social relations. Therefore, they advocated establishing a political system with clearly defined privileges and obligations, 26 and above all a moral order in the society. Daoists responded to the chaotic age more passively. They believed that things develop according to their own logic (dao), and thus a wise way to rule a society is just letting things develop on their own. Legalists were realists and reformers. Since the patrialineal order established during the West Zhou no longer worked, they emphasized the importance of rule by the law (not rule of the law), and facing fierce military conflict, they promoted reforms to strengthen state power. During the age of total war, the brutal warfare among rival states made Daoism politically irrelevant and Confucianism an unrealistic project. If, at the time of Confucius, Confucian ideas still had a limited resonance among the politicians, when it came to the time of Mencius (ca. 372­289 BCE), who was later elevated to the status of the second sage in the Confucian tradition, Confucian ideals became almost completely irrelevant. In his whole life, Mencius failed miserably in trying to sell a project that no statesmen treated seriously. What dominated the political arena during the age of total war was 25 Kings and princes during the age of total war often opened large­scale guest hostels (or even academies) to host hundreds even thousands men of various talents. They were their thinking tanks and the talent pools. 26 Gould’s (2003) analysis of violence and conflict in communities bears striking similarities with this part of Confucian ideal.
34 Legalism. As the result, the reform programs they had proposed swept across China. Yet, before discussing the legalist reforms, let’s first digress a little to analyze the limitations of Chinese philosophies. Limits of Chinese Philosophies The characteristics of the early Chinese philosophies can be understood from many different angles (Fung 1952; Gernet and Vernant 1980; Hegel 1956; Keightley 1990; Mote 1989; Puett 2001; Tu 1985). What I am interested in are the political consequences of the early Chinese philosophical traditions. On this particular issue, let us compare the Chinese philosophies with the political philosophies in early­modern Europe. I argue that the differences between the pre­modern European and the ancient Chinese philosophies can be traced to two major factors. First, while the pre­modern European political philosophies had their intellectual origins in Greek philosophy, Christian theology, and the new humanistic and scientific traditions emerging after the Renaissance, the Chinese philosophies, although boasting of a “hundred schools of thought,” were based on a much smaller cultural repertoire from which the philosophers could draw inspiration. Under the West Zhou public education system, teachers and officials were not differentiated. An official in charge of a particular government branch was also responsible for teaching his expertise in the school. When these people were compelled to offer private education, they naturally developed their way of thinking along their line of expertise. Liu Xin (ca. 46 BCE – 23 CE), a leading Han Dynasty scholar, observed that different schools of the SA&WS philosophies all had their origins in the practice of the Zhou official system (Feng 1996, ch.3). More specifically, Confucianism was developed by the officials in charge of decorum, Daoists were initially official historians, and the early Legalists were those in charge of law and punishment. The reality might not have been that neat, but Liu’s argument is insightful. The homogenous origin of Chinese philosophies not only limited the imagination of the
35 early Chinese philosophers, but also perpetuated a patrilineal Zhou culture through the entire history of ancient China. 27 Secondly, warfare in second­millennium Europe proceeded in an environment with the presence of powerful churches and independent commercial cities. Their strong presence not only effectively counterbalanced rising state power induced by warfare, but also facilitated the rise of multiple, equally persuasive political philosophies competing in the ideological arena. 28 Early Chinese warfare, however, was initiated in a society where the state, ideological and economic power had not really become well differentiated. Neither independent churches nor commercial cities existed when the SA&WS era started. The philosophies and intensive market relations were largely the consequences of a war­driven rationalization process. The weakness of economic and ideological power also prevented Chinese philosophers from offering viable alternatives to challenge the legalist programs. Indeed, in pre­modern Europe, the war­ridden environment also produced “legalist” philosophers such as Machiavelli and Hobbes. Yet, there is a crucial difference between the legalist doctrines and Hobbesian ideals: while the legalist state had absolute power above the law and its subjects, the Hobbesian state ruled its people based on contractual relations. More importantly, in pre­modern Europe, along with the Hobbesian strong state ideas, there were also liberalism and later socialism that effectively counterbalanced each other on both ideological and political fronts. These political philosophies provided alternative visions of political order, hampered the development of absolute states and paved the way for the rise of capitalism and democracy. The earlier Chinese philosophers under the schools of Confucianism, Daoism and Mohism were no 27 Needless to say, Chinese philosophies also originated from a much narrower cultural base. In Greece the Mediterranean trade routes and their extension had brought Ionians, Milesians, elements of the Egyptian and possibly even Indian traditions together to create a stunning achievement of human rationality. 28 Here, by persuasiveness, I mean a philosophy’s persuasive power at the time that philosophy was formed. Unpersuasive philosophies, however, may very well find a large audience later.
36 less concerned about the danger of an absolute state. Yet the lack of independent churches and the weakness of the business class prevented the rise of contractual ideas in their political thinking. On the other hand, the limited intellectual resources they could draw upon, that is, Zhou’s weak state system and patrilineal ideals, pushed the Chinese philosophers to think of checking state power either by moralizing it (as in the case of Confucianism) or by minimizing or escaping altogether from it (as in the cases of Daoism and Mohism). However, the “hundred schools of thought” all paled before the rise of Legalism. In fact, Confucianism, a political philosophy that aimed to model political relations on ritual­based familial relations, never dominated China until around four hundred years after its inception. The result is only natural: while Legalism legitimized the role of an unchecked strong state, the effective mobilizing and fighting capacity of the state brought by the legalist reforms reinforced the popularity of Legalism. This kind of war­ideology synergy continuously strengthened state power and facilitated the rise of total wars. In the meantime, it prevented the Chinese philosophies and market relations from flourishing further. The Legalist Reforms Wei’s ascendancy after the legalist reform posed a great threat to other states and pushed the others to follow. According to what we know, reforms started in Zhao in 403 BCE, in Chu around 390 BCE, in Han in 355 BCE, in Qi around 357 BCE and finally in Qin in both 356 and 350 BCE. Among these reforms, the Qin reform not only happened later, but also went deeper than most of the earlier reforms. To understand why the reforms were so crucial for the rise of total war and Qin unification, let us now take a look at of the major elements of the Qin reforms engineered by Shang Yang (ca. 390 – 338 BCE). Shang Yang was a student of Li Kui, the architect behind the Wei reform. He went to Qin in 361 BCE to answer for a call in a decree “Seeking for Talents” issued by Qin. The motive behind the decree cannot be more obvious. At the time, Qin was under Wei’s military pressure and a large part of Qin’s land west of the Yellow River had changed hands to Wei. It was stated clearly in the decree that its purpose was for
37 strengthening the state in order to recover the lost land in the east (Records, Biography of Shang Yang). The Qin reform measures were quite complicated, and the following summary only gives a rough picture of where the reform was heading. 1) It divided Qin’s territory into forty­one counties and appointed paid officials to manage them. It also removed aristocrats from government posts and replaced them by appointed officials. 2) It established laws to severely punish even petty crimes, and created a family and hotel registration system to limit the movement of the population. (Under the system, fives and tens of families were organized into a group. A crime committed by anyone inside the group would be considered a crime of the entire group if it was not reported to the authorities. Guests are not allowed to stay in a home or hotel overnight without a permit). 3) It linked a soldier’s promotion and economic benefits directly to his battlefield performance. 4) It promoted private ownership of land and encouraged the formation of nuclear families. (Tax was doubled for a household with more than one adult male, and the amount of tax was assessed based on the size of the family.) 5) It used laws and monetary measures to discourage commercial activities. In short, the reform aimed at establishing a centralized­bureaucratic state that was able to exercise totalistic control over its population and to extract the maximum amount of human and material resources from the society to fight more effective wars. 29 Such reforms facilitated changes in the nature of warfare from domination to territorial expansion. Equipped with newly acquired state power, states were now able to mobilize a larger portion of the adult male population to engage in total war of longer durations, and to organize ambitious road and water projects to enhance communication, agricultural production and extraction capacity, all for the purpose of war. After 405 BCE, 30 but especially after 350 BCE, when the Qin reform was under way, territorial expansion and demographical weakening of the enemy states (read mass killings) became common. This 29 For the concept of totalistic state see Tsou (1991) and Zhao (2001). 30 In that year, Zhao, Wei and Han together defeated Qi. Thirty­thousand Qi soldiers were reported killed and 2,000 of chariots captured.
38 kind of reform­war synergy in conjunction with territory­thirsty warfare became the engine of history, paving the way for the Qin unification in 221 BCE. The Rise and Decline of Economic Power Due to the high cost of warfare, how to finance the war was a crucial concern for the dukes, and consequently behind the rise of a major power, there was always an economic policy, and some of such policies had played a crucial role in facilitating the development of market relations during the SA&WS era. I have waited until now to touch the topic mainly because it was in the age of total war that the power of the moneyed men reached zenith and then experienced a quick decline. In The Book of Lord Guan (Strategic Assistance, or Dakuan), for example, it was recorded that while Duke Huan of Qi intended to wage wars immediately after he came to power, Guan Zhong advised him to first lower the tax and promote production. In The Discourses of the States (Jin 4), it is also recorded that after obtaining power Duke Wen of Jin first “wrote off the old debts, lowered government and military taxes, … lowered tariffs for both import and export goods, encouraged commercial activities, and stimulated agricultural production.” If both Qi and Jin made themselves stronger by adopting laissez­faire economic policies, other states had played more active roles. For instance, after being seriously defeated by Wu in 494 BCE, Yue not only encouraged commercial activities but also used state wealth to buy and sell various goods to regulate the market for the benefit of the producers and state revenue (see Records, The Economic History). As the economy boomed, we see the rise of powerful businessmen. As early as 627 BCE, Zuo’s Commentary (Xi 33) carries an entry noting that Xuangao, a Zheng merchant, on his way to do business, saw the Qin troops coming to attack Zheng. Xuangao immediately used Zheng’s official stage carriage to send a message back on the coming invasion. Meanwhile, he went to the Qin army and presented, on behalf of the Zheng state, handsome gifts and told them that Zheng would happily provide the Qin army’s supplies as long as they were on their territory. Believing that Zheng had well prepared for the invasion, the Qin army withdrew. The fact that Xuangao even dared to claim to provide supplies for the entire Qin army suggests the scale of his business
39 operation, and that he was able to dispatch Zheng’s stage carriages and to visit the Qin army on behalf of the Zheng state also showed his political status. If such accounts about businessmen were still rare occurrences in the age of hegemons, by the age of transition, more and more prominent businessmen left their marks in history. For example, Zigong, one of Confucius’ disciples, was so rich a businessman that he was often received by the dukes with the highest honor as he traveled. Also, Fan Li, Yue’s Chief Councilor, after helping Yue to conquer Wu in 473 BCE, left to start a business at Dingtao. If these were still individual cases, other textual evidence shows that commercial culture might have dominated the social life of ordinary folk in cities. In Records (Biography of Su Qin), we learn that Su Qin (? – 284 BCE), a prominent strategist at the time, had a rocky start in his political career. Unable to sell his ideas to the kings of various states, he had to return home empty­handed. At home, he was mocked by his family members: “According to our Zhou custom, a man should devote himself to manufacturing and commerce and reap twenty percent of the profits. But you have abandoned the fundamentals by making a living through empty talks. No wonder that your life has turned out to be a failure.” What this criticism tells us is that by the age of total war, as the city population greatly expanded, many city dwellers earned their living by doing business. In other words, while the textual traditions tended to record activities of a few successful political heroes, ordinary city folks’ role model at the time was not politicians but businessmen. The above story also reveals another transformation at the time – the rise of commercial cities. The SA&WS cities originated as military colonies. Yet, with the increase of the population, extension of road and canal systems and expansion of commercial activities, some of these cities evolved into economic centers. For example, Chengzhou, where Su Qin was born, was the capital of East Zhou, but it became a commercial center. Dingtao, the place where Fan Li’s business flourished, was in the old days the capital of Cao. But when Fan Li started his business, Dingtao was the most important depot and trading center in China. Zuo’s Commentary (See Xiang 28, 29 and Zhao 3, 10, that is, 545, 544 and 539, 532 BCE) carries four records that clearly show Lingzi’s (the capital of Qi) prosperity during the age of transition. By the age of total war, Lingzi had become a major metropolitan center of the east. This was how Su Qin, in his
40 effort to persuade King Xuan of Qi (r. 319­301 BCE) to join an allied force against Qin, described Lingzi (Records, Biography of Su Qin): Lingzi has seventy thousand households. Assume an average of three male adults in a household, … Lingzi alone was able to provide 210,000 soldiers for Qi. Lingzi is also a very prosperous city. The people at Lingzi are all good at playing the flute, lute, zither and Zhu. 31 They also like to watch cock fights and dog races, and to play chess and football. The streets of Lingzi are full of carriages; it is so full that the carriages often hit each other on the street. Lingz’s streets are full of people; they are so full that people rub shoulders. When these people raise their hands, their sleeves cover the sky, and when they try to wipe out perspiration, their sweat drops down like rain. In Lingzi, every household is rich and every person leads a well­to­do life. The account gives us a sense of the scale of the city at the time. It also gives us a glimpse of the leisure activities and the kind of commercialism and prosperity existing in the city. Like most of the Strategists’ writings, Su Qin’s accounts must have involved considerable exaggeration. Yet the same chapter on Su Qin also describes his visit to other states but the exaggeration then goes on in quite different directions. Some sort of prosperity must have existed in Lingzi to give rise to such a fantastic account. We can provide endless examples of the scale of commercialism at the time. What I want to stress is that, unlike what was in pre­modern Europe, where economic power effectively balanced state power in the process of war­driven state centralization, in China by the end of the age of total war the state centralization process prevailed. The domination of Legalism must have played an important role here. The legalists regarded usury and speculation as detrimental to agricultural production, and they saw that the key to win a total war was to have a large peasant population that could produce grain on the one hand, and supply manpower for war on the other hand. 31 Zhu was a 13­stringed musical instrument.
41 Yet while ideas were important, they could not be the only factor that led to the domination of politics over market. The traditional institutions in Europe, including both the churches and states, carried mentalities that no less disliked and distrusted the business class. Yet, while the state successfully harnessed the commercialization in SA&WS China, in Europe both the rulers and the clergy could do little to the commercialism in the cities (McNeill 1982, p.115). Here, whether commercial cities appeared before or after the start of the war­driven state centralization is crucial. In China, the commercialization was part of the consequences of war­driven state centralization and the businessmen never existed as an organized political force. In Europe, although the towns during the Dark Age were either the administrative seats of the bishop or military headquarters of the lord, by the fourteenth century, before the war­ stimulated state centralization process started to gain its momentum, some of the most important European cities had already evolved into independent commercial centers and constituted a vital part of Europe’s economic and political life (Finer 1997, vol.2, ch. 5). The difference led to totally different trajectories of development in the relationships between the state and city. In pre­modern Europe, when military conflict shifted into a higher gear, the wealth of the cities made “even the mightiest European command structures” depend “on an international money and credit market for organizing military and other major undertakings.” (McNeill 1982, p.115). In China, the states relied largely on the docile peasant population for the supply of manpower and resources for the war. Therefore, in Europe, between patrimonial warfare and nationalized warfare there was also mercenary warfare (Howard 1976; Tilly 1992). In China, the hegemonic warfare (which shared similarities with European patrimonial warfare) was directly transformed into total wars (similar to European “nationalized” warfare less the existence of a mass­based national identity) without passing through a mercenary stage. In other words, while the existence of mercenary warfare in pre­modern Europe benefited the power of the business class, the lack of such warfare made wars in China more favorable to the state power. Moreover, when the European warfare entered the nationalization stage, the war­ driven state­centralization process met strong resistance from the bourgeoisie on both ideological and political fronts. Thus, we see the development of the concepts of “limited
42 government,” “social contract,” “no representation, no taxation,” and “liberty.” And we see the eventual rise of bourgeois revolutions and waves of democratization triggered by revolutions. In China, the war­driven state­centralization process met little effective ideological and political resistance. Although the Chinese business clan had also accumulated an extraordinary amount of wealth at the time, they were feeble politically. When war­driven state centralization started in Europe, the major contenders to the process were the bourgeois. But, when the legalist reforms began in SA&WS China, the major contenders to the process were old aristocrats. 32 We do not see a trace during the age of total wars of the existence of any kind of organized resistance from the business class to the reforms that hurt the interests of moneyed individuals. It is not that the Chinese businessmen at the time never tried to become politically relevant. Yet, since they did not exist as an organized force independent of the state, successful businessmen adopted individualistic strategies to achieve their power and influence within the state. Lü Buwei’s (? ­235 BCE) life offers a most illustrative example. Lü could use his money to bribe all the way to the Qin court to enable an otherwise hopeless crown prince to be selected as an heir apparent (Records, Biography of Lü Buwei). He became a central figure in Qin politics for over a decade as the result. When Lü was in power, many merchants went to Qin and the businessmen for a time held enormous power not outside of, but inside, the state. Yet, when the First Emperor of Qin saw Lü’s power as a serious threat, he forced Lü to commit suicide and started to persecute businessmen. It becomes immediately clear that while the bargaining relationship between the state and cities in Europe had made compromises possible, the business within the state structure in China created a zero­sum conflict between the state and businessmen. The Total War and the Rise of the Qin Empire The Qin unification was the result of the changed nature of warfare after the legalist reforms. The reforms changed the nature of warfare in two ways. First, the 32 Some leading figures of the legalist reforms such as Shang Yang in Qin and Wu Qi in Chu were killed as the result of the strong aristocratic resistance to the reforms.
43 reformed state was able to mobilize a large portion of the adult male population and a huge amount of resources to fight wars with much larger scale and longer duration. Secondly, once freed from the problems associated with the feudal crisis, the warring states became very territory­thirsty. The purpose of war was now changed from domination (as during the age of hegemons) to territorial expansion. During the earlier wars, relatively few soldiers were killed even in a major campaign, but now since mass killing of enemy soldiers could destroy the morale and reduce the fighting population of an enemy state, more and more soldiers were killed or slaughtered in conflict. With wars of such scales and given the fact that no nationalistic sentiments existed among either the elites or the masses at the time, China’s central plain (with its relatively flat terrain and rich networks of road, river and canal system) was impossible to host multiple empires for long. This was all behind the Qin unification in 221 BCE. Here, I also want to stress that, during the age of hegemons, small­scale wars were responsible for an early wave of bureaucratization as well as for secondary feudalization. (Here wars changed the nature of the state.) During the age of transition, the feudal crisis placed a constraint on the development of warfare. (The nature of the state shaped the warfare.) Now, the introduction of meritocratic bureaucracy eliminated the problems of feudal crisis. Consequently, acquiring new territory instead of striving for a hegemonic status became a clear goal of wars. The whole process, once again, changed the nature of warfare. The relationship between the warfare and the state formation is dialectical rather than unidirectional. Most historians attribute the rise of Qin Empire to its more successful legalist reform. While the reform was crucial, other factors should not be ignored. First, Qin had the most ideal geographic and geopolitical position. Located in the west part of China, its territory had a higher altitude than the rest of the states. Qin could use the eastward Wei River to quickly transport soldiers and military supplies. On the other hand, the same geography made it harder for the rest of the states to maintain their supply line to sustain a prolonged warfare with Qin. 33 Qin’s geopolitical position was also ideal. While the rest 33 In the campaign of Changping between Qin and Zhao in 261 and 260 BCE, about 450,000 of Zhao’s soldiers were reportedly killed. Even before the war was started,
44 of the states all faced powerful enemies at least on two fronts, Qin’s westernmost location and the existence of Qinling Mountains as a natural barrier to the enemies from the south allowed Qin to keep its geopolitical focus on the east. 34 Second, before Wei attacked Qin, Qin was still a second­rank state only interested in the affairs west of Yellow River. If Wei had decided not to attack Qin but a central­ plain state first, Qin might well have remained asleep until it was too late. Yet, Wei made westward expansion as its strategic choice, but facing the threat from the other states in the south and east, Wei was unable to keep its geopolitical attention focused. In the end, Wei’s westward military expansion only awakened a sleeping giant. Finally, located amid nomadic tribes and state systems, Qin’s soldiers were always very capable fighters. Another side of it was that Qin was never at the center of the Chinese civilization and its education system was not well developed. Of the “hundred schools of thought,” none originated in Qin. In fact, Qin was simply unable to produce enough indigenous talents. Yet, this weakness had an unintended positive consequence – it pushed Qin to adopt an open­door policy, which was highly attractive to the foreign talents. Individuals such as Shang Yang, Zhang Yi, Gan Mao, Rang Hou, Fan Sui, Lü Buwei and Li Si, to name just a few, all came from other states and all had played crucial roles in Qin’s success. Before 320 BCE, Qin’s major opponent was Wei. After that, Qin started to attack other states and the scale and duration of wars and the casualties involved further grew. a Zhao minister argued that they were unlikely to win the war because: “Qin used the cows to plough the land and transport their grains to the front through rivers.” (Stratagems of Warring States, Zhao, part I). Also, Cao Cuo, an early Han Dynasty official, once explained why it was Qin rather than another state that unified China: “Qin was geographically more favorable, it had better financial resources, and its people were more devoted to fight.” (History of the Early Han, Biography of Cao Cuo). 34 To be sure, Qin was not completely worry­free on its northwest front. Several nomadic states, especially Yiqu, sometimes applied pressures on Qin. However, the nomadic states around Qin were generally weak. In 362 and 272 BCE, Qin eliminated Huan and Yiqu, the two major states located northwest of Qin.
45 Therefore, during the entire SA&WS era, fifteen out of twenty wars with more than 20,000 casualties happened between 317 and 256 BCE. Of these fifteen battles, Qin involved thirteen of them. Historians, especially Western experts, believe that the death toll figures were highly exaggerated because no states at that time had the capacity to mobilize such a huge amount of population (Bodde 1986). The death tolls might be indeed exaggerated, but this should not lead us to deny the extremely high numbers of deaths for wars during that period. The fact that most reported high casualty occurred between 317 and 256 BCE was not a coincidence. Before 317 BCE, Qin had not grown to its full strength, and after 256 BCE no states had the courage to fight anymore. The close link between the timing when these wars were happened and the larger historical process gives us a certain confidence in the death toll figure, at least in relative terms. The warring states were able to fight wars of that scale because after the legalist reforms, they had turned into war machines. The organizational capacity that these states had achieved [Micheal Mann (1986, ch. 9) has termed the extensive technologies], based on the canals they had dug, the roads they had constructed and the Great Walls they had built, could not be reached again in China for many years to come. The Rise of the Confucian­Legalist State After the Qin unification in 221 BCE, feudal wars were no longer an engine of social change. Yet, in the next eighty years or so, we see the rise and collapse of the Qin Empire, the emergence of the Han Empire, the rise and decline of Daoist doctrines as governing principles, and finally the inauguration of imperial Confucianism as the state ideology. Following the perspective of this article, the quick­pace development in this period can be understood as the consequences of an unstable political crystallization formed as the result of the war­driven dynamism: the Qin state after the unification had established an empire that based its rule almost exclusively on harsh ruling techniques developed as the result of the war­driven conflict. This political system, despite its mighty facade, was intrinsically unstable. The repercussions of this unstable political crystallization furnished a background to the political developments in these eighty years and to the final rise of a highly stable crystallization of the Chinese empire – the Confucian­Legalist state.
46 The Demise of Qin The quick demise of Qin has been attributed by historians to factors such as the sudden death of the First Emperor and the ensuing palace intrigues, the repressiveness of the regime and peasant rebellion, and finally the existence of widespread anti­Qin sentiments in the conquered states. These are all important factors. However, I argue that the key to Qin’s quick demise, and indeed the factor that was behind all the other factors listed by historians is that the Qin state after unification became excessively confident in the effectiveness of its extensive organizational capacity and the harsh ruling methods they had developed during the age of total war. 35 To win the war, Qin followed the highly instrumental legalist methods. It organized the whole society under a centralized­bureaucratic state that aimed to achieve a totalistic control over its population; it constructed long­distance canals and road systems to support the war efforts; it killed and even buried alive captive soldiers to destroy the other states’ fighting population and to undermine their determination to fight; finally it employed divide­and­control strategies to break any alliance of the enemy states and used spying and bribing to crack the relationships between the king and generals of rival states (At this stage, the heads of major states all entitled themselves kings). The more the Qin state became successful militarily, the more the Qin elites were confident about their capacity to change nature, to control the domestic population and to silence differences. By the time of the unification, the Qin Empire had already developed into a state that based its rule not on some contractual relations with the entire or a segment of the society, but on its sheer capacity to control the society. Therefore, what led to the quick decline of the Qin Empire was ironically its strength. The Qin Empire marshaled a tremendous amount of power in terms of its capacity to penetrate and reorganize the society. Yet at the same time, it was also for the first time in Chinese history that the state power was not checked by major societal forces. 35 To be sure, Confucianism still played a certain role in the society. The First Emperor sometimes also endorsed Confucianism as a social and familial ethics (Bodde 1986). Yet in the political arena, Legalism exercised complete domination at this stage.
47 No one may disagree that the Qin state had simply tried to do too much even by a modern standard. Let’s list some of the tasks that the First Emperor carried out during his reign after the unification. In eleven years, the Qin state dismantled all the defensive wall systems and road blocks of each of the warring states and in the meantime greatly expanded the existing road and canal systems to facilitate communication between the regions. It coerced the people in the conquered states to migrate to new areas in order to better control them. 36 It reportedly sent out half­million troops on several major military expeditions in the south. It pushed the Huns back outside the agricultural zone and in the meantime constructed the Great Walls to fence off the northern nomads. It standardized China’s written language, monetary system and the system of measurement. It published extremely draconian legal codes and demanded peasant families to pay high tax and to work for the state. It constructed a highly elaborate imperial palace (E­pang Palace) and a giant mausoleum (Lishan tomb) for the First Emperor. To sanction ideas unfavorable to Qin’s despotic rule and wipe out the memories of the feudal past, the First Emperor also ordered to confiscate and burn books that recorded the history of other states (He also at one point buried alive over four hundred Confucian and Daoist scholars). Finally, to display his accomplishments, the First Emperor toured China five times and in the end died in his last trip in 210 BCE. There is no need to emphasize the amount of the manpower required to complete the projects such as the Great Walls and the long­distance road systems. It is also unnecessary to stress the amount of human suffering and resistance that was induced by such actions as the large­scale forced migrations and book­burning campaigns. Only the Lishan Tomb alone (the terracotta army we see today was part of this project), it took 700,000 “criminals” (most were artisans of the defeated states) for way over ten years to complete it. Therefore, it is estimated that over fifteen percent of the entire Chinese population were conscripted to work on various projects for the Qin Empire (Lin 1981, p.393). Even women were drafted to work on the state projects (Bai 1995, vol.5, p.230). No regime of such a brutal nature could survive for long. In fact, a rebellion broke out 36 Records (History of Qin) claimed that the First Emperor forced 120,000 rich and powerful families from all over China to move to the Qin capital.
48 only a year after the First Emperor’s death. The rebellion drew numerous supporters and triggered other uprisings. The Qin Dynasty was overthrown in 206 BCE. In the aftermath, we see the rise of the Han Dynasty. The Rise of a Confucian­Legalist State The early Han Dynasty deviated from Qin politics in two ways. First, while the Qin Dynasty adopted a centralized bureaucratic system, the early Han political system contained both bureaucratic and feudal elements. Second, it was a consensus in the beginning of the Han dynasty that the mighty Qin collapsed because of its repressive rule. The seven­year civil wars between 209 and 202 BCE also brought deaths and miseries to most of the Chinese families. Learning from the historical lesson and for the recovery of the people’s livelihood, the early Han ruling elites adopted a governing method inspired by Daoist doctrines. The key idea is that both the people and the state would be much better off when the state simplified its legal system, lowered its tax, and allowed the people to take care of themselves. 37 The feudalization policy soon proved to be unsustainable. While Liu Bang, Han Dynasty’s founding emperor, was still alive, some feudal kings already started to “rebel”. In response, the Han state gradually rolled back the power of feudal kingdoms and expanded the bureaucracy. The Han state’s second policy was a great success. Various accounts all agreed that the early years of the Han Dynasty were a time of prosperity. Yet with the prosperity emerged new issues. First, the peace and prosperity stimulated a quick rise of population, 38 and the rise of large businessmen and land owners. The commercial class’ increased capacity in manipulating the market in conjunction with population 37 See Records (Biography of Chief Concilor Cao, and Biography of Chief Councilor Xiao). Both Xiao and Cao promoted the Daoist ruling methods. 38 For example, it is recorded that in the beginning of the Han Dynasty, a major feudal domain only contained around 10,000 households, yet about half a century later the households under the control of a major feudal domain increased to between 30,000 and 40,000. See History of the Early Han (Preface to the List of Meritorious Ministers during the Reigns of Gaohui, Gaohou and Xiaowen).
49 growth drove many peasants away from their land. The Daoist passive rule that had worked well for a recovering society no longer suited the new situations. Second, once a bureaucratic system was firmly installed, the issue of how to recruit civil officers became urgent. Third, while the Daoist ruling methods had brought success, it did not provide a foundation to justify the rule of the state and a moral base for the cooperation between the ruling house and elites. The basis of state legitimation, therefore, became an issue. 39 These issues and the ways in which the Han ruling house had tried to deal with them led to the eventual rise of imperial Confucianism as a state ideology and the meritocratic selection of officials based on their mastery of the classics (particularly the Confucian classics) as a way to recruit officials and a mechanism to sustain a state­elites alliance. The task was accomplished during the reign of Emperor Wu (r.140­87 BCE). Emperor Wu had done many things that altered the nature of the Han state, but at the core of his new statecraft are promoting both Legalism and Confucianism, that is, to create a political system that based its legitimacy on Confucianism and its practical statecraft on legalist methods. Confucianism saw the relationships between the state and society as the extension of the familial relations. It justified the status quo, yet in the meantime it emphasized the importance to be a good ruler who could take care of, and serve as a moral guidance to, its subjects. As the regime’s stability depended no longer so much on winning wars than on the cooperation between the ruling house and the bureaucratic elites, Confucianism became attractive. Dong Zhongshu (179­104 BCE) had played a major role behind the rise of official Confucianism. To simplify, what Dong added to Confucianism were the 39 How could a more stable empire be established, or what should be the basis of state legitimacy, had been a central concern of the early Han ruling elites. For instance, it is recorded in Records (Biography of Li Sheng and Lu Jia) that Lu Jia once told Liu Bang that: “You can conquer the world on horseback, but how can you rule it on horseback? … A stable rule always combines military mighty with moral guidance.” According to the Records, Liu was so impressed that he immediately asked Lu to write essays to further elaborate his view. Lu Jia had written a total of twelve essays collectively titled New Discourses presented to Liu Bang as memorials.
50 ideas of heaven­human correlation and “three cardinal guidance” (ruler guides ministers, father guides son and husband guides wife). Dong saw man as an integral part of nature (or heaven). Heaven only grants mandates to good rulers, and it expresses itself through the change of weather or the occurrences of natural disasters. By incorporating the idea of the mandate of heaven, Dong’s theory more clearly defined the basis of state legitimacy than the early Confucian ideas. Moreover, while the early Confucians tended to see the more reciprocity­oriented five virtues (benevolence, righteousness, propriety, knowledge and sincerity) as the guiding principles of all kinds of human relationships, Dong’s three cardinal guides emphasized the domination of the ruler over minister, father over son and husband over wife. Such an asymmetrical understanding of the power structure made Confucianism more appealing to the rulers. As soon as he was enthroned, Emperor Wu published edicts demanding each prefecture or feudal domain to recommend two individuals each year, one based on the excellence in scholarship and another on filial conduct. After 135 BCE, when Emperor Wu followed Dong Zhongshu’s suggestion to “suppress other schools of thought and elevate only Confucianism,” almost all of the recommended individuals were Confucian scholars. Meanwhile, to further promote Confucianism, Emperor Wu created a public education system to teach Confucian classics and select talents from among them. An alliance between the Confucian elites and the state gradually formed in China. Emperor Wu, however, was also a very active statesman and adopted many legalist methods to rule the society. He revived many Qin legal codes and developed some of his own. He further eliminated the power of the feudal domain and forced many aristocratic families to migrate so as to uproot them from their power base. He implemented universal coinage and placed many crucial economic sectors especially the iron and salt production under state control. What Emperor Wu established was a centralized bureaucratic system similar to what it was during the Qin Empire lest one crucial difference ­ while the Qin Empire based it power on sheer force, the Han based its legitimacy on Confucian doctrines and relied on the Confucian bureaucrats to run the country. Such a political system provided a base of state legitimacy, a moral guidance to all, a check­and­balance between the ruling house and bureaucrats, a homogeneous ruling
51 class culture, and a certain level of upward mobility for the lower classes to join the ruling rank. I call such a state a Confucian­Legalist state. Patterns of the Chinese Past By now, I believe I have explained China’s early rise of bureaucracy and strong state tradition, as well as the logic behind the rise of the Confucian­Legalist state. Now the question is: over the next 2,000 years China had experienced huge changes in terms of climate, geopolitical situation, external trade, internal population density and distribution, and many more. Other possibilities were also presented when other worldviews (Buddhism in particular) or political forces found their way to China. Why was this political system able to persist through these changes? What are the logic links between the Confucian­Legalist state and the other five historical patterns that I summarized in the beginning of this article? Although I am unable to do full justice to these questions within a limited space, I would argue that the key here was the relationship between political and ideological power. Bluntly, Christianity was above, and in competition with, the state; Islam emphasized the tribal power at the expense of the state; Brahmanism organized local activities so extensively that the state became dispensable; and Buddhism is not a this­world religion. Among the major persuasions, Confucianism is the only one that was almost made for the state. The nature of Confucianism facilitated the formation of a symbiotic relationship between the political and ideological power, and after wars ceased to be a major engine of Chinese history, it was this relationship that made China’s political system particularly resilient (not in terms of its stability but in terms of its renewal mechanisms) to various social changes, and it is also this relationship that gave rise to all the other historical patterns in China. 40 40 Michael Mann (1986, ch.5) argues that an empire needs “compulsory cooperation” from its subjects in order to maintain itself. Among the five aspects of compulsory cooperation discussed by Mann, the most sophisticated one, and indeed only realized in very few world empires, is the “coerced diffusion,” which means that similar ways of life and culture are able to diffuse in the same imperial domain. The symbiotic relationship between China’s ruling house and the Confucian scholars established under
52 The Confucian­Legalist state did experience decays due to changing conditions, which triggered peasant rebellions and/or nomadic invasions. Nevertheless, so long as no other persuasions could better legitimize the state and Confucian scholars as a class were not destroyed, the new rulers still needed imperial Confucianism as a ruling ideology and had to rely on Confucian scholars to rule China. Hence the system renewed. Nomadic empires were established in China such as during the age of disunity between the third and sixth CE, the Yuan Dynasty (1279­1368 CE) and Qing Dynasty (1644­1911 CE). 41 They adopted different ruling strategies, but in the end none of them were able to pull imperial China away from the Confucian state model. During the age of disunity, the nomadic empires all tried to create different state systems and to promote the newly arrived Buddhism as a way to counter balance Confucianism. 42 Yet not only they failed to turn Buddhism into a ruling ideology, the increased Buddhist power as the result of the state promotion lowered the states’ taxation capacity and induced rebellions. 43 Naturally, many states started to limit and even repress Buddhist activities (Bai 1995, vol. 7, pp.402­3), and to promote Confucianism. 44 The most dramatic event at Emperor Wu certainly facilitated such “coerced diffusion,” and contributed to the stability of the Confucian­Legalist state. 41 I have excluded the three nomadic states (Liao, Jin and Xixia) coexisting with the Song Dynasty in the discussion, but their development showed great similarities with the nomadic states that I have discussed. 42 They claimed that “Buddha is a nomadic god.” See History of Jin (Biography of Fuo Tucheng). 43 In the state of Northern Qi, for instance, the temples had over three millions of monks at their peak, and the number of the monks surpassed the taxable population in the society (Bai 1995, vol. 7). History of Northern Dynasties also recorded seven Buddhist rebellions between 481 and 517 CE. Most of these rebellions were initiated by the lower­ level monks in opposing the temple authorities, but they shattered the regime’s stability as the scale of the rebellions grew larger. 44 Liu Yuan, the founding Emperor of “Earlier Zhao,” appointed many Confucian scholars to important positions in his court. The Emperors of Northern Qi (550­577 CE)
53 the time was the self­sinicizing efforts initiated by Emperor Xiaowen of Northern Wei (r. 471­499). 45 During his reign, Emperor Xiaowen ordered his family to intermarry with Chinese, coerced his people to adopt Chinese surnames, language and culture, promoted Confucianism, and modeled the state bureaucracy and legal codes after the Han system. Chinese historians all agree that his policy paved the way for China’s reunification under the Sui (581­618 CE) and Tang dynasties (618­907 CE). The last two nomadic empires in China, that is, Yuan and Qing dynasties (the Mongols and Manchus), adopted totally different policies after conquest, which led to different consequences. The Mongols brought people from Asia Minor and Middle East to help them to rule China. The policy freed the Mongols from relying only on Confucian elites, but it also made the Mongol rule very unstable and predatory. Rebellions never stopped during the Yuan Dynasty, and after the death of Khubilai in 1294 CE, the empire soon declined. The Yuan Dynasty was brought down by peasant rebellions 89 years after its founding, making it the third shortest dynasty in Chinese history. Unlike the Mongols, the Manchus almost completely endorsed the Confucian state model after the conquest. Such an action lowered the resistance of Chinese elites and the Qing Dynasty lasted 267 years until the republican revolution in 1911. Yet, even though the Manchus had tried hard to maintain their own identity and heritage, by the 20 th century, they adopted sinicized surnames, lost their language, and became hard to distinguish from the rest of the Chinese. To summarize, the nomads after conquering China had two choices: either to adopt the Confucian­Legalist state model or refuse to do so. Refusal meant that they were unable to get cooperation from the Confucian class and would jeopardize their rule, while acceptance would lead to a loss of their identity. Yet rulers appeared to care more about their rule than their ethnic identity. That is why most nomadic empires in China adopted and Northern Zhou (557­581 CE) were also patrons of Confucian scholars. Also, see Bai (1985), vol.7, pp.426­30. 45 The rulers of Northern Wei were part of the Xianbei people. They were possibly Caucasians and spoke a pre­Turkic language. The dynasty lasted between 386 and 531 CE and they ruled most part of north China at their zenith.
54 the Confucian­legalist model and even actively turned themselves into “Chinese”. Such “self­sinicizing” efforts expanded the territory of Chinese empires in the north. Generals faced the same problem as the nomads. After the formation of the state­ Confucian scholar alliance, the Chinese states were essentially governed by civil officials. This alliance provided generals with little legitimate position in politics. Even when a military commander took over the state power (such an instance is the founding of the Song dynasty, 960­1279 CE), without an alternative ideology, the general­turned­ emperor still needed to base his rule on imperial Confucianism and seek cooperation from Confucian scholars, hence started a new dynasty in which the new generals still had no political position. Moreover, if the power of generals became a problem in one dynasty, the state of the subsequent dynasty would learn the lesson. Over time, various divide­and­rule, check­and­balance mechanisms were employed (That is why the power of generals was particularly weak during Song Dynasty). As a result, generals’ position in politics for most of the time remained marginal in Chinese history, and over time, especially since the Song Dynasty, the military had never been a major threat to the state. To the question of why the Chinese state had a generally tolerant even utilitarian attitude toward religions, my answer is that: Imperial Confucianism as it was codified during the Han Dynasty is a this­worldly ethical system, not a transcendental religion. However, it not only provided a base for state legitimation but also a set of comprehensive ethical codes that regulated the lives and relations of the Chinese people. In many ways, the role of Confucianism in Chinese society was similar to that played by Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism in other societies. The only major difference here is that the Confucian scholars were at once priests and state bureaucrats. Since Confucianism, especially its rituals centered on ancestor worship, had satisfied a large part of the Chinese’s religious quest, other religions such as Daoism and Buddhism could only assume minor roles in Chinese life. More importantly, because of the existence of a symbiotic relationship between Confucianism and the state, transcendental religions could not penetrate into the core of politics. Therefore, the Chinese state could
55 tolerate the coexistence of many religions in society so long as they were not viewed by the state as the basis of mobilization for potential peasant rebellions. 46 For quite some time, scholars have tried to emphasize the changes and dynamism in imperial China’s over two thousand years of history. One crucial issue of concern is whether China had a real possibility to have an indigenous development of industrial capitalism without the arrival of the West. Based on the existence of widespread market relations during late imperial China and the fact that until the mid­19 th century the living standard and the level of commercialism in some parts of China still surpassed many parts of European, recent scholars have tended to see the possibility of having an indigenous industrial breakthrough in China as real, and that it was only by some historical luck (such as the immigrations to the New World or some crucial technological inventions) that Europe could finally have an economic breakthrough whereas China did not. While I accept most of the analysis on late imperial China’s impressive level of commercialism and social diversity, I would argue that capitalism was largely a political not economic phenomenon. China could not have had an indigenous development of capitalism mainly because, while Chinese society experienced tremendous changes over 2,000 years of the imperial history, the basic political crystallization formed during the Han dynasty (that is, the Confucian­Legalist state model) not only persisted, but also overtime matured, strengthened, and, by the time of Ming and Qin dynasties, greatly hardened. During late imperial China, market relations were widespread and highly developed. In particular during the Song Dynasty, we see the emergence of large urban centers with over a million residents. 47 We also see the existence of sophisticated credit 46 For instance, an isolated White Lotus rebellion in Shandong in 1774 caused Emperor Qianlong to suspect the rebellion potential of all the While Lotus sects (Naquin 1981). Consequently, Qianlong started to purge the White Lotus sects all over China, an action that triggered a large­scale White Lotus Rebellion which took the Qing state eight years to suppress. 47 The Chinese cities since the SA&WS era had the following structures: the whole city was surrounded by a moat and a rampart. Inside the city, the houses were
56 system and paper money, large­scale factories and workshops, commercially motivated inventions, and the splendid nightlife in cities. Song was also one of the least repressive dynasties in Chinese history; 48 its taxation was highly dependent on commerce; it tolerated and even encouraged commercial activities. Private property rights were also more observed in Song than in both the earlier and the later dynasties. Song was in fact the only dynasty that never implemented any land redistribution programs (Huang 1997, p.120). If China had indeed had a chance to have an indigenous development of capitalism, it would most likely have happened during Song China. Yet even at its zenith, the Song cities were still fully controlled by the state and the city residents had never thought of demanding any kind of rights from the government (Mote 1999, p.761). Moreover, although the relatively free political environment under Song facilitated another major development of the Chinese philosophies, what dominated the intellectual scene and indeed became the foundation of squared off into wards, each of which surrounded by walls with a few gates. The wards were for different purposes, most residential but others commercial. The wards were all closed off at night. However, since the late Tang Dyansty, commercial activities extended to the residential wards and shops started to open at night. During the Song Dynasty, the ward system which had existed in China for over a thousand years broke down, city expanded beyond the limits of the city walls, and many Chinese cities became increasingly commercially oriented. 48 Legend had it that Zhao Kuangyin, Song Dynasty’s founding emperor, placed a stone tablet in a secret room, and on it he enjoined his successors never to kill any high­ level officials or people because they had criticized, or made recommendations at odds with the view of, the emperor. The room was always guarded by illiterate eunuchs so that no one outside knew what was inside, but the succeeding emperors had to go to the room before the coronation to receive this ancestral teaching. It was not until 1126 CE when the Jurchen sacked Bianjing, the Northern Song capital, that the secret was revealed. A historical truth to this legend is that, during the Song Dynasty, once an official lost favor in the court, he would generally be transferred to a lower­level post. Very few high officials were killed for political reasons during the Song Dynasty.
57 the state ideology of the later imperial China was Neo­Confucianism, a philosophy not at all conducive to capitalism. Thus, if we consider the development of independent cities and rise of science and rational ideologies as the most important conditions to the rise of capitalism in Europe, we have to conclude that the chances even for Song China to have such a breakthrough were slim. Nevertheless, the issue of how Song China would have developed is not a meaningful one in the historical sense because before the Song development was able to achieve its own course it was disrupted first by the Jurchen and then the Mongol invasions. The two empires following the Mongol rule (Ming and Qing dynasties) had many differences. However, in terms of the issues that we are interested in they were rather similar. Both dynasties were politically and ideologically much more repressive than the Song Dynasty, and in both cases commercial activities were more repressed. Although the commercialism developed during the Song Dynasty did not die, the large metropolitan cities characteristic of Song China disappeared. The commercialism was squeezed to the countryside and market towns mushroomed as the result (Skinner 1964, 1977). In both dynasties, market relations were more repressed initially when the state was strong. In Ming Dynasty, for example, it was not until when the dynasty had lasted for around a hundred years and started to decline that such activities started to rise. 49 Yet, the weakening of the state induced political instability that not only destroyed the state, but also the economy. In other words, the Confucian­Legalist states were either too strong for the economy to develop or too weak to provide the law and peace necessary for a sustainable economic breakthrough. To use indexes such as level of commercialism or per capita calorie intake to argue for China’s potential in having an indigenous rise of 49 The Ming economy started to rise during the reigns of Zhengtong (r. 1435­1449 CE) and Tianshun (r. 1457­1464 CE) Emperors. By the time of Chenghua (r. 1464­1487 CE) and Hongzhi (r. 1487­1505 CE), the economies around the Suzhou region had perhaps reached the level of the Song Dynasty. Wang Qi (b. 1433­1499 CE), for example, provided an eyewitness account of the economic prosperity around the Suzhou region during the late fifteenth century. See Wang (1984).
58 capitalism simply underestimates the “capstone” effect of political and ideological power (Hall 1986). While market relations existed in any society with certain surplus for exchange, capitalism needs to be supported by a political environment that facilitates the scientific revolutions, the rise of capitalist accounting methods, and finally the formation of an incentive structure for risk­taking entrepreneurship and the invention of crucial intensive technology (North 1981). It was a distinctively Western phenomenon in the sense that it had greatly benefited from the Greek­Roman tradition and only gradually rose to become inevitable under the interactions of two parallel historical processes: a war­driven rise of instrumental rationality and a balance­of­power type of conflict and cooperation between the state, the independent city, the church and the military. 50 Capitalism had to be a European accident because very few conditions that had played crucial roles in the rise of capitalism existed anywhere else in the world. For the sake of taking a “non­Eurocentric” view of history, recent scholars believe that China and Europe had a very similar trajectory of development until the mid­nineteenth century. They made such an argument in part because they see capitalism as representing progress and deserving to be achieved by any society. But in fact, capitalism is just an irresistible reality, not something that has to be celebrated. 50 Mann (1986, pp.500­1) has commented insightfully that, the European miracle “was not due fundamentally to the twelfth­century town, or thirteenth­ to fourteenth­ century struggles between peasants and lords, or fourteenth­century capitalist accounting methods, or the fourteenth­ or fifteenth­century Renaissance, or the fifteenth­century navigational revolution, or the scientific revolutions of the fifteenth to the seventeenth century, or sixteenth­century Protestantism, or seventeenth­century Puritanism, or seventeenth­ to eighteenth­century English capitalist agriculture – the list could be continued. Each and everyone of these is weak as a general explanation of the European miracle, for one reason: They start too late in history.”
59 Figure 1. Spring­Autumn China (and Networks of Warfare before 650 BCE). The dots represent the capital cities of some of the states during the Spring­ Autumn era. Since the boundaries of the states constantly fluctuated, they are not drawn here. The lines in the figure indicate the wars fought between 722 and 650 BCE. Only one line is drawn for the two states that fought more than one battle. If more than one state attacked another one, a line is drawn between the major invading state and the state that was invaded. Those lines with arrows indicate the clash of different regional hegemons as the time approached 650 BCE. The figure shows clearly the existence of four major war networks, each with its own hegemon. It also shows that Zheng bid for a hegemonic status in the central­plain region before the rise of Qi in the same region.
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