Page images


1. Mémoires concernant l'Histoire Des Chinois. Missionaires de Pe-kin. Tome Cinquième. Nyon l'aîné, 1780.

Par les

2. Outlines of Chinese History. By Li Ung Bing. Shanghai: Commercial Press, 1914.

3. Epochs of Chinese and Japanese Art. By E. F. Fenelloso. Heinemann, 1912.

4. Confucianism and its Rivals. By Herbert Giles. Williams and Norgate, 1915.

5. The Historical Development of Religion in China. By Walter J. Clennell. Unwin, 1917.

6. The Problem of China. By Bertrand Russell. Allen and Unwin, 1922.

7. The Sayings of Lao Tzu. By Lionel Giles. Wisdom of the East Series. Murray, 1906.

8. The Sayings of Confucius. By Lionel Giles. Murray, 1907.

And other works.

THERE are two aspects to national history, even as there are two to the ordered human soul-the purposeful and the incidental. The purpose of a nation is rarely self-conscious at the beginning, but it breaks into self-consciousness with the flowering of Empire. To be conscious of self, conscious of mission, conscious of superiority, is to allow 'the inward standard to manifest itself without.' It is the end in sight; but the purpose of a nation through all its phases, its greatness, its mission, its superiority are the lawful materials of the historian. If he possess the one essential qualification beyond book-learning and research—that of historical imagination-he can recreate out of these broken scraps of machinery, these shards from the dust-heaps of oblivion, something of the methods of government and social life of Empires whose sun will never rise again. And all that is incidental, the rise and wane of dynasties, the tramp of legions, conquest and annexation, the ebb and flow of barbarians across the frontier, will be treated as incidental and only shown in so far as it stimulates or weakens and diverts the national purpose.

'Chinese history,' says Bertrand Russell, in the

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

'Problem of China,'' consists of a series of dynasties, each strong at first and weak afterwards, each gradually a losing control over subordinates, each followed by a me period of anarchy . . and ultimately succeeded by a new dynasty which temporarily establishes a strong central Government.' We should, however, also remember that the history of a great dynasty is the history of the impetus given in the first place by its founder. Afterwards there may come a fresh impetus from which the Empire gathers new strength and acquires new sources of inspiration, but the fountain head is invariably the Emperor. He is the Father of his people. This is not to say that the Emperor was necessarily a great and original genius, a personality bigger than any of his subjects. What, then, was the secret of his influence on the national destiny? It lay, in my opinion, in his choice of ancestors?

[ocr errors]


The lower part of man inherits, the spiritual part adopts, and the ancestors of the human soul are those of adoption. The founder of the T'ang dynasty had the exemplars of 2500 years to choose from, and he chose with honour. This T'ai Tsung was in reality the second of his line; but it was his military genius that brought his father to the throne in 618 A.D., and when Kao Tsu allowed the reins of government to slip they were caught in the strong hands of his second son. Thenceforth, T'ai Tsung drove on to his appointed goal-the consolidation of China. He had no less than eleven rivals in eleven independent and hostile states, and one by one he subdued them all. Who, then, were his ancestors by adoption, and what influences from the past were brought to bear upon the moulding of his character?

In the first place, as a Chinese Emperor, and therefore loyal to tradition, he would take from tradition the legendary figures of Yao and Shun, the first Emperors of his race. Of them it need only be said that they embodied all that the nation looked for in kingcraft and statesmanship. Yao was the mouthpiece of his people. 'Every one had access to his Court either to offer a suggestion or make a criticism.' Shun was a patriarch of the Jacob type, receiving both Leah and Rachel from his fatherin-law, Yao. It is interesting to note that at this period,

2200 B.C., there was a minister of education of Cabinet rank, with wider powers than any similar official possesses to-day. Yet neither we nor T'ai Tsung would have known much of Yao and Shun had it not been for Confucius. In 501 B.C., at the age of fifty, Confucius began his chequered career as a public official; but only at the end of it, as a broken, harassed, and disappointed man, did he settle down to edit the famous classics which are known to this day as his. No one can treat of any portion of Chinese history without referring to his outlook on Government and public affairs. More especially are we concerned with his attitude towards the rulers of his day. Chi K'ang Tzu asked by what means he might cause his people to be respectful and loyal, and encourage them in the path of virtue. Confucius replied: 'Conduct yourself towards them with dignity, and you will earn their respect; be a good son and a kind prince, and you will find them loyal; promote the deserving and instruct those who fall short, and they will be encouraged to follow the path of virtue.' The same prince asked for advice on the subject of government. Confucius answered: To govern is to keep straight. If you, sir, lead the people straight, which of your subjects will venture to fall out of line? Again he says, 'The virtue of the prince is like unto wind; that of the people like unto grass. For it is the nature of grass to bend when the wind blows upon it.' In all these answers we see the sovereign held up as the pattern and example of his people. From the point of view of Chinese paternalism, it was the duty of the head of the family when things went wrong in the family circle to examine himself and so find out where the primary cause lay, and this applied specially to the ruler, who was, beyond all else, the Father of his people. Confucius held with many modern thinkers that the material prosperity of the people came before their education. It was of little use to feed the brain when the stomach was empty. Jan Yu said, 'Now that the people are so abundant, what is the next thing to be done?' 'Prosper them,' said Confucius. And having prospered them, what then?' Teach them,' was the reply. At the very centre of Confucianism lies the doctrine of adjustment. The Emperor adjusts himself

[ocr errors]

to the requirements of his great ministers; they in turn to the provincial governors; they to the local magistrates; and so on down the scale of social order. This adjustment may be described as the harmony of one human sphere of influence in its relation to another. The Master taught with music and ceremonies. For him music was the expression of a common brotherhood of humanity through feelings which never change and all I possess-through joy and sorrow, delight, fear and Texaltation. 'Ceremonies,' says Confucius, distinguish the things in which men differ. Hence the theory of music and ceremonies embraces the whole nature of man.' Alas! in years to come music itself became a ceremony and ceremony a convention, and Confucianism hung like a formal garment on the bowed shoulders of the doctrinaire. Confucius must, however, share with another the paternity of T'ai Tsung.

[ocr errors]

It is related in a popular legend that the spirit of Lao Tzu appeared to a simple farmer in his rice-field and 1 gave him the following command: 'Go and inform your sovereign that I am his ancestor.' Upon hearing this Kao Tsu, father of T'ai Tsung, who was then on the throne, caused a temple to be erected to his first ancestor. The Book of the Way of Virtue, the Tao Te King of Lao Tzu, became the household classic of the T'ang dynasty, and all members of the royal family were required to master its contents. Surely the world has never seen so small a scripture from any of its great Teachers, nor one that apparently failed so completely to be understood, to hold or convince! Taoism did not belong to its age any more than it does to ours. It belonged essentially to an age we dream of and build in our dreams, to the adornment of which we bring all things unwanted in a world of militarism and chaosour ideals and aspirations and the secret jewels we are ashamed to display in the eyes of curiosity and indifference. Of Taoism it has been finely said by Mr Lionel Giles that it can never hope to hold its own in human affairs until indeed the new era dawns of which Plato dreamed long ago, and this world of ours becomes ripe for the dominion of Philosopher-Kings.

At the centre of Lao Tzu's doctrine lies the spirit of adjustment; but, unlike that of Confucius, which aimed


at the social adjustment of man in relation to his fellowmen and was united, the adjustment of Lao Tzu reached out through man and nature to the Godhead. The man of Tao was one who lived in harmony, not merely with his age, nation, class, and family,, but with the four seasons, with night and day, joy and anger, sorrow and happiness, caution and remorse, getting the best out of life's varied moods and adapting himself to her myriad changes, making of himself, so far as mortal man is able, a microcosm of God. The instrumental music of Confucius gives place to something vaster and more uplifting in this universal orchestra of creation in which beings and elementals play their part. The attitude of Lao Tzu on the subject of Government may be gathered from the following: Govern a Great Nation as you would cook a small fish,' that is, don't overdo it. Again, 'Do not confine the people within too narrow bounds; do not make their lives too weary. If you do not weary them of life, then they will not weary of you.' His ambition for the ruler was that he should rule so lightly that the people did not know they were being ruled. Living in the midst of a feudal age with warring states on all sides, he was the greatest opponent of militarism before Christ, whom he resembles more than any other Teacher. Taoism discriminates between the thing done deliberately and the thing done unconsciously. The child learning to walk does so with deliberation step after step, the man walks easily and naturally. The essence of Taoism is a natural implicit obedience to the divine urge from within, never a blind unguided drifting along the stream of life. These, then, are the ancestors of T'ai Tsung-Tradition, Confucius, and Lao Tzu. Of these we may safely claim tradition as the greatest, for it is the foundation of the other two. And linked inseparably with tradition is filial duty.

[ocr errors]

"The Emperor,' says Prof. Giles, has been uniformly regarded as the son of God by adoption only, and liable to be displaced from that position for the offence of misrule. If the ruler failed in his duties, the obligation of the people was at an end, and his divine right disappeared simultaneously.'

When T'ai Tsung formally ascended the throne in 627 A.D., he found the forces of Taoism and Confucianism

« PreviousContinue »