This collection of sayings and reports attributed to Lord Shang (d. 338 BCE) may have been compiled by later officials, but its vision of a centralized bureaucracy was emulated at many points in China’s turbulent history. The work is composed of 25 or more brief sections, some of which are lost, but the remainder address the necessity of good and competent government.
Sebastian De Grazia, ed., Masters of Chinese Political Thought: From the Beginnings to the Han Dynasty (New York: Viking. 1973), 339–343.
A new wave of antiforeign sentiment in China, triggered by a “race for concessions” among the Western powers in the late 1890s, was increasingly centered on a group called the Society of the Harmonious Fists. The foreign community referred to this organization, due to their ritual exercises and resistance to both Qing and foreign control, as the Boxers. By late 1899, the Boxers were regularly provoking the foreign and Christian communities throughout China, and the assassination of the German ambassador in 1900 launched a brutal civil war. Western countries united to oppose the Boxers, now allied with Empress Dowager Cixi, and the foreign diplomatic quarter in Beijing was besieged between June and August 1900. Nevertheless, the groups most frequently targeted by the Boxers were Western missionaries and Chinese people who had converted to Christianity. Among those killed was the entire family of G. B. Farthing, an English Baptist missionary in Shanxi province, whose are shown in the photograph below.
Shun was thought to be one of the three “Sage Kings” who ruled China between 2852 and 2205 BCE, after the reign of the “Yellow Emperor.” The achievements of these kings are recorded—though the exact dating of each strand of material is controversial—in the Shujing, or Book of History. The material in the compilation purportedly dates from 2357 to 631 BCE, but, regardless of its precise chronology, the “Canon” attributed to Shun reveals increased sophistication in determining the role and proper behavior of a leader.
James Legge, trans., The Sacred Books of China: The Texts of Confucianism, vol. 3 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1879), 38, 40–41, and 44–45.
When European Christian missionaries first came to Ming China, they made very little progress in converting the Chinese, in large part due to their limited training in Chinese language and culture. When he arrived in China in 1583, the Jesuit Matteo Ricci (1552–1610) encouraged his followers to immerse themselves in the language and to become conversant with the rich traditions of Chinese literature. He also came to be respected by, and especially helpful to, the emperor, as he offered his expertise in the sciences and mathematics to the imperial court. With a European Jesuit (Adam Schall von Bell) as the official court astronomer to Kangxi, there were reports that the Emperor himself considered converting to Catholicism. Nevertheless, not every encounter between Chinese and Europeans went so smoothly, as the following anecdote from Ricci’s diary reveals.
Matthew Ricci, China in the Sixteenth Century, trans. Louis Gallagher (New York: Random House, 1953), 161–– 165.
British Broadcasting Corporation
In May 1989, a protest movement gathered strength in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, as students convened and constructed a large statue called the Goddess of Democracy. By the beginning of June, the movement had turned into a generalized protest by workers and ordinary citizens in addition to the students. When they refused to disperse, the government sent in the army on June 4 to crush what, to many in the Communist Party, had become an incipient rebellion. The image of a lone man attempting to face down an approaching tank became the instant icon of the movement, but there are many other arresting narratives of the events that occurred during this protest. On the 15th anniversary of the suppression of these protests, the British Broadcasting Corporation interviewed survivors and eyewitnesses, gathering their testimonies into the report excerpted below.
The reign of Qianlong (r. 1736–1795) marked both the high point and the beginning of the decline of the Qing dynasty. Several European nations, driven by their desire to corner the market on the lucrative Chinese trade, sent representatives to Qianlong’s court. In 1793, Great Britain dispatched Lord Macartney, its first envoy to China, to obtain safe and favorable trade relations for his country. In response, Qianlong composed a letter to King George III (r. 1760–1820) detailing his objections and conditions, which Macartney conveyed back to Britain. The terms of this letter underscore Qianlong’s subtle understanding of global economic conditions and the maintenance of a balance between the interests of various nations.
E. Backhouse and J. O. Bland, Annals and Memoirs of the Court of Peking (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1914), 322–331.
The Chinese had to deal with nomadic neighbors on their northwestern frontier from an early date, and many of the patterns of that relationship were established, or at least explored, under the Han dynasty (202 BCE–220 CE). The Xiongnu was the Chinese name of the peoples, more or less politically united at different times, who were the dominant nomadic power on the frontier during Han rule. In addition to Chinese agricultural goods and metallurgy, the Xiongnu had developed a taste for Chinese silk, which became the principal luxury item used by nomadic leaders to build their political coalitions on the steppes: the more silk a leader could give away, the larger a following he could create.
As with all government business under the Han and subsequent Chinese dynasties, voluminous records were kept of (1) court deliberations over policy with regard to the frontier and (2) of diplomatic correspondence with the Xiongnu, whose leader had the title Shen-yu. Official court historians used these records extensively when writing their histories. The following selections are from the Hanshu, a Chinese history concerning the history of the Chinese empire from 206 BCE to 25 CE. It gives much detail about Chinese attitudes toward the “barbarians” who caused them so much trouble, as well as opening a few windows into the attitudes of the nomads themselves. Although colored by Chinese assumptions, the descriptions are generally accurate, receiving confirmation from other written sources and from archaeology. The selections describe an early period in Han relations with the Xiongnu, before 140 BCE, that can be described as conciliatory, being characterized by the payment of tribute by the Chinese to the Xiongnu (though the Chinese sources tend to call the goods “gifts”), use of diplomatic marriages, and other techniques designed to acculturate the “barbarians” to Chinese ways.
Excerpted from the Hanshu, trans. A. Wylie, Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, 3 (1874): 401–50.
This one-act puppet play is one of the first fictionalized (though only thinly disguised) treatments of a famous event that occurred in Tokugawa Japan in 1701–1703. The historical incident began with a knife attack by the daimyo (feudal lord) Asano Naganori on an imperial official named Kira Yoshinaka. Whatever the justice of the provocation, Asano had committed a serious breach in conduct and was forced to pay the most severe penalty. Even though Kira had suffered only a minor wound to his face, Asano was commanded to commit seppuku, ritual suicide. When he did so, his 47 samurai vassals were left leaderless (rōnin), but they swore to avenge Asano’s memory by killing Kira.
In January 1703, the 47 rōnin entered Kira’s home, chasing him and killing several of his retainers and wounding others, including Kira’s grandson. When they finally trapped and overcame Kira, the rōnin cut off his head and brought it to their master’s grave. However, they then decided to turn themselves in to the authorities and commit seppuku themselves, true to their code until the bitter end. In order to elude the censors, Chikamatsu altered the names, condensed some of the main details, and offered a judge that was more sympathetic to the rōnin cause. The essential story would reemerge repeatedly in popular culture (both Japanese and non-Japanese) down to the present day.
Jacqueline Miller, “A Chronicle of Great Peace Played Out on a Chessboard: Chikamatsu Monzaemon’s Goban Taiheiki,” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 46 (1986): 221–267, 263–267.
The Lives of Eminent Korean Monks is a compilation of biographies of Buddhist monks from the Three Kingdoms period of Korean history (first century BCE through the tenth century CE). It promotes Buddhist piety by stressing the (often supernatural) deeds of these monks, and it is also a valuable source for Korean history. In spite of its importance, the work was long thought lost until portions of it were found at a Buddhist temple in the early twentieth century. This passage of the Lives deals with the introduction of Buddhism as the national faith of the Silla Kingdom in 527 CE, under King Pŏpkong.
“Pŏpkong Declares Buddhism the National Faith,” in Peter H. Lee, ed. Sourcebook of Korean Civilization, vol. 1, From Early Times to the Sixteenth Century (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), 75–77.
Ban Biao and Ban Gu
This dynastic history was a continuation of the Records of the Grand Historian (Shiji), originally compiled by Sima Qian (ca. 145–86 BCE), and it repeats many of the phrases and situations Sima Qian had described verbatim. However, these histories provide remarkable insights into the behavior of emperors and their families at court—while also suggesting developing notions of gender and education. This segment of the Han Shu covers the reign of Hsiao-Ai, in roughly 6–1 BCE.
Han Shu, Book 11 (Annals of the Emperor Hsiao-Ai), Chinese text and English translation: http://www2.iath.virginia.edu/saxon/servlet/SaxonServlet?source=xwomen/texts/hanshu.xml&style=xwomen/xsl/dynaxml.xsl&chunk.id=d2.49&toc.depth=1&toc.id=0&doc.lang=bilingual.>
Marco Polo (1254–1324) was a member of a clan of Venetian merchants, who had been active in trade in the Middle East for some decades. Polo claims to have accompanied his father and uncle on an extensive trade and diplomatic excursion to China in 1271, and in this account he describes the voyage as well as the people and places he has seen. He further claims to have lived 17 years in China and to have met with, and even served as an official for, Kublai Khan (1215–1294), Genghis Khan’s grandson. While some historians have suggested that the account may not be reliable, it demonstrates, at the very least, Western curiosity about Asia and the catalyst of trade in driving some Europeans into hitherto unknown parts of the world.
Marco Polo, The Travels of Marco Polo, trans. Ronald Latham (Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1958), 115–118.
Su Hsün and Wang An-shih
The two documents presented here provide insight into a debate with a long history in China: land reform. The fiscal health of the government depended on the existence of a large class of independent farmers. But periodically, especially in times of economic prosperity from which some benefited more than others, the power of great landowners threatened both the livelihoods of independent farmers and state tax revenues.
The first source offers a viewpoint on the feasibility of well-field-style land reform under the Song dynasty. Su Hsün (1009–1066) was a government official famous for his writings that defend the Song system against charges of overtaxation and attempts to prove the well-field system infeasible. In doing so he gives a summary of the views of other reformers who advocated the reestablishment of the well-field system.
Second, Wang An-shih (1021–1086) was in effect the prime minister of China under the Emperor Shen-tsung (r. 1068–1085). He instituted, with the emperor’s support, a wide-ranging set of reforms more ambitious than any before the rule of the Communists, reforms that touched on the organization of landholding and tax assessment, the civil service exams, and many other areas of governance. In this edict he proposes expanding an experimental reform measure already tried in one province. Although he took his inspiration from the Confucian classics, his interpretation of Confucianism, which stressed the authority of the central government to impose changes for the good of society, aroused significant opposition among other Confucian scholars, as well as those whose vested interests came under attack. Eventually, almost all his reform measures were repealed.
DeBary, et al., eds., Sources of Chinese Tradition, vol. 1. New York: Columbia University Press (1960): 406–08. Copyright © 1960 Columbia University Press.
In March 1839, the Daoguang emperor sent Lin Zexu (1785–1850), a widely respected official with a reputation for courage and honesty, to Canton as an imperial commissioner, charged with the task of cutting off the opium trade—a trade which had proved extremely lucrative to British traders in the region. Lin confiscated vast opium stocks, ordered them burned, and made merchants sign an agreement that they would no longer sell the drug, on pain of death. British merchants appealed to their government for compensation—and for military action against Lin’s agents. This effort culminated in the First Opium War (1839–1842). In the midst of his anti-opium efforts, however, Lin also attempted to shame Queen Victoria (whom he believed was at the center of governmental policy in Great Britain) into cutting off the opium trade that was causing so much damage to the Chinese people, even though it generated profits for the British.
Chinese Repository, Vol. 8 (February 1840), pp. 497–503; reprinted in William H. McNeil and Mitsuko Iriye, eds., Modern Asia and Africa, Readings in World History Vol. 9, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1971), pp. 111–118
The Tokugawa were forced to capitulate to the samurai of two southern domains by the end of 1867, and the new regime moved to the Tokugawa capital of Edo, renaming it Tokyo (Eastern Capital). The new emperor, 15-year-old Mutsuhito, took the name Meiji (Enlightened Rule) and quickly moved to make good on that name. The throne issued a charter oath in April 1868 and promulgated edicts that spelled out how the new government would be set up. Throughout the 1870s and 1880s, Japan experienced a flourishing of government-managed social experimentation. The proclaimed goals of using “Western science and Eastern ethics” in the service of “civilization and enlightenment” were designed to put Japan on an equal footing with Western powers. The constitution itself, composed after a painstaking study of the constitutional governments of many Western countries, reflects this drive to “Westernize.” Nonetheless, the document also contained various escape clauses, in case the power of the emperor was questioned too openly.
Hirobumi Ito, Commentaries on the Constitution of the Empire of Japan, trans. Miyoji Ito (Tokyo: Igirisu-horitsu gakko, 1889), available online at the Hanover Historical Texts Project, https://history.hanover.edu/texts/1889con.html.
Tokugawa Nariaki (1800–1860) was one of the leading Japanese political and military leaders of the nineteenth century. As possessor of the Mito territories, he was one of the most powerful and influential daimyo, or feudal lords, and a member of a collateral branch of the Tokugawa family. Nariaki was a very forceful and polarizing personality. Although a confirmed believer in the superiority of the Japanese way of life and of the imperial tradition, he was not an unreflective or “knee-jerk” conservative. Already in 1841 he had established an academy in his feudal domain for the study of useful Western knowledge, and it was there that the phrase “revere the emperor, expel the barbarians” was first used publicly. He was an adviser on maritime defense, and, when Commodore Perry and the Americans demanded change, he penned an aggressive and sharply defined response, which urged resistance.
G. Beasley, trans. and ed., Select Documents on Japanese Foreign Policy, 1853–1868 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1960), 102–06.
Virtually no records have survived from the period between the unification of China in 221 BCE and the collapse of the Qin Empire 15 years later. Accordingly, historians are forced to rely on documents composed during the Han dynasty for relevant information. Nevertheless, one of the stories passed along, concerning the advice of Li Si to the emperor, is a stark reminder of how fragile learning can be, even in a temporarily successful polity. The Records of the Grand Historian (Shiji) is a lengthy history of China compiled by Sima Qian (ca. 145–86 BCE), and the collection also includes a detailed biography of Li Si.
Shih chi 87:6b–7a, in de Bary and Bloom, comps., Sources of Chinese Tradition, vol. 1 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1960), 140–141.
W. H. Bernard and W. D. Hall
When hostilities broke out between China and Britain in 1839, the British fleet was the most powerful in the world and in a high state of readiness. The Chinese had no real naval forces to contest the British, but a small Chinese squadron sailed out to confront the British men-o’-war. The underfunded and frantically assembled Chinese navy could not stand up to armored steam gunboats like the Nemesis, whose heavy pivot gun dominated riverside batteries and allowed British expeditionary forces to land wherever they pleased. The British methodically attacked and occupied forces along the Chinese coast from Guangzhou to Shanghai, and the Treaty of Nanjing (1842) marked an end to hostilities. However, the “heroes” of the Nemesis continued to receive attention for their victory over the Chinese, and a book detailing the ship’s voyages and military successes was rushed into print in 1845.
W. H. Bernard and W. D. Hall, Narrative of the Voyages and Services of the Nemesis from 1840 to 1843, and of the Combined Naval and Military Operations in China: Comprising a Complete Account of the Colony of Hong-Kong and Remarks on the Character and Habits of the Chinese, 2nd ed. (London: Henry Colburn, 1845), 149–152, available online at http://www.gutenberg.org/files/43669/43669-h/43669-h.htm.
The Nihon Shoki is the first official history of Japan. It draws on numerous sources, including Chinese histories, clan histories, and the accounts of religious authorities. While it parallels the Kojiki in describing the ancient and mythological origins of Japan, it continues the narrative far beyond the Kojiki into the recent past, specifically the reign of the Empress Jitō (686–697). This particular story concerns the eleventh emperor of Japan, Suinin, but it differs from the Kojiki in certain key details, and probably reflects the values of the eighth century rather than its ostensible setting (the first century CE).
“The Empress and Her Brother Prince Sahobiko,” from Traditional Japanese Literature: An Anthology, Beginnings to 1600, ed. Haruo Shirane (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007), 47–49.
Around 500 CE, a wave of immigrants and cultural influence from the Korean kingdom of Paekche entered Japan from the southwest, bringing with it new technology for metal weapons. The influx stimulated the rise of a new Japanese state, the Kingdom of Yamato, centered on modern-day Osaka, and further militarized the aristocratic clans. The key elements of this wave of cultural borrowing were Chinese writing, Confucianism (the first Confucian scholar came to Yamato in 513), and Buddhism. Buddhism arrived in force in 552 when Paekche sent an image of the Buddha, some scriptures, and a Buddhist priest to the Yamato court with which it was allied. All these elements entered at the instigation of the Yamato kings, who sought to use them as tools to strengthen and centralize their rule against the resistance of the clan-based aristocracy.
This process heightened in the reign of the Empress Suiko (r. 592–628) and her regent Prince Shotoku (573–621). Prince Shotoku was a devout Buddhist who consciously imported T’ang Chinese models of government in reaction to the breakdown of the Paekche alliance and growing armed aristocratic resistance. He wrote a constitution for the Japanese government that was largely Confucian in its principles but the second article of which required devotion to Buddhism on the part of Japan’s rulers. Finally, a coup against Shotoku and his Soga clan brought to power Kotoku Tenno, or “The Divine Emperor” Kotoku, in 645. His reforms, sponsored by Confucians and Buddhists at the Imperial Court, represent the true birth of the Japanese imperial government and the incorporation of the clans and their aristocrats into centralized rule.
This history is recounted in the Nihongi, a semiofficial history of Yamato Japan completed in 720. It emphasized both the divine origins of the imperial family and the part of Buddhism in the construction of the imperial system. The establishment of Buddhism in Japan, then, was inseparable from the emergence of centralized, imperial authority, and the following source deals with the twinned processes by which imperial authority and Buddhism were promoted. Moreover, it demonstrates that Buddhism and Shintoism could coexist, each contributing to the authority and legitimacy of the emperor, as Shinto elements appear in the text in the references to gods, plagues, and demons.
W. G. Ashton, “Nihongi: Chronicle of Japan from the Earliest Times to AD 697,” Transactions and Proceedings of the Japan Society, London, supplement i (1896).
Tang Taizong (d. 649), a founder of the Tang dynasty, was determined to create an empire that expanded upon the consolidation achieved under the Sui dynasty. The result was a large empire of people diverse in language, religion, and culture; it was also economically diverse: the south was more productive and more prosperous than the north. Taizong recognized that these were all challenges to his dynasty, and that the Sui had faced similar problems and failed. Determined to be more effective, Taizong identifies what he sees as the weaknesses of the Sui and how he planned to prevent those some weaknesses from hampering his dynasty.
Translated by J. Dun Li, 1925