ZHOU DYNASTY SOCIETY

ZHOU SOCIETY


King Wu

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “The Zhou were a conscientious people careful in meting out punishment. With an orderly ceremonial system and strict observance of law in the feudal states, their achievements even attracted the neighboring foreign tribes to emulate. Figurines of ethnic tribespeople in various styles of dress have been unearthed at archaeological sites, some of which has clear imitations of Zhou ceremonial artifacts. Such was the cohesive power of Zhou culture. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei npm.gov.tw \=/ ]

“Zhou elite relied on ritual ceremonies to manage the relationships between man and heaven and people in general. Governed by the concept of "being morally worthy of the Mandate of heaven", the Zhou established political rules, ritual ceremonies, patriarchal ethics, laws and regulations, and moral values, which came to serve as models for generations to come. Even in modern-day customs, the influence of Zhou culture is still perceptible. \=/

“After the King of Zhou overthrew the Shang dynasty, the concept of "being morally worthy of the Mandate of Heaven" was presented. The Shang were described as being morally bankrupt, resulting in the transfer of the Mandate of Heaven to Zhou. Therefore, morals were of prime importance in governance, and the Zhou were conscientious and careful in meting out punishment. The importance attached to de, or morals, is evident in many bronze engravings. De was used to regulate the rights and duties of each level of the hierarchy, and to maintain the relationships dictated by the patriarchal system of ethics.” \=/

“Ceremonies and music were systemized after the middle Western Zhou. Sets of bronze ding, gui, and li food vessels, differing in number according to rank, indicates a clear establishment of a feudal hierarchy. Titles and gifts bestowed by the King were important manifestations of personal status and family honor. The application of laws and regulations also differed according to patriarchal ethics.” \=/

Good Websites and Sources on Early Chinese History: 1) Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu; 2) Chinese Text Project ctext.org ; 3) Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization depts.washington.edu ; 4) Zhou Dynasty Wikipedia Wikipedia ; 5) Ancient China Life ancientchinalife.com ; 6) Ancient China for School Kids elibrary.sd71.bc.ca/subject_resources ; 7) Oriental Style ourorient.com ; Books: Cambridge History of Ancient China edited by Michael Loewe and Edward Shaughnessy (1999, Cambridge University Press); The Culture and Civilization of China, a massive, multi-volume series, (Yale University Press); Mysteries of Ancient China: New Discoveries from the Early Dynasties by Jessica Rawson (British Museum, 1996); “Early Chinese Religion” edited by John Lagerwey & Marc Kalinowski (Leiden: 2009);

Good Chinese History Websites: 1) Chaos Group of University of Maryland chaos.umd.edu/history/toc ; 2) WWW VL: History China vlib.iue.it/history/asia ; 3) Wikipedia article on the History of China Wikipedia 4) China Knowledge; 5) Gutenberg.org e-book gutenberg.org/files ; Links in this Website: Main China Page factsanddetails.com/china (Click History)

Zhou Feudalism

The term feudal has often been applied to the Zhou period because the Zhou's early decentralized rule invites comparison with medieval rule in Europe. At most, however, the early Zhou system was proto-feudal, being a more sophisticated version of earlier tribal organization, in which effective control depended more on familial ties than on feudal legal bonds. Whatever feudal elements there may have been decreased as time went on. The Zhou amalgam of city-states became progressively centralized and established increasingly impersonal political and economic institutions. These developments, which probably occurred in the latter Zhou period, were manifested in greater central control over local governments and a more routinized agricultural taxation. [Source: The Library of Congress *]

Dr. Robert Eno of Indiana University wrote: “While the mandate theory seems to have had good public relations value, the Zhou leaders needed more concrete measures to provide them with firm control over the broad geography of the Shang polity. Very shortly after the conquest, the Zhou devised a “feudal” political system that would provide them with greatly extended power. Zhou feudalism is not closely related the feudalism of Europe’s Middle Ages, which is the basic reference point for that term – it would be more accurate not to use the term “feudalism” at all for the era of the early, or “Western” Zhou, but there is no easy alternative and we will keep “Zhou feudalism” as a term of convenience for that era.[Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu /+/ ]

“In the early, post-conquest Zhou, the allocation of estates (“fiefs”) by the Zhou rulers was first conceived as a sort of hereditary garrison command. Members of the ruling clan of the Zhou (the surname of the clan itself was Ji., not Zhou) were awarded large holdings of land far from the Zhou capital city in the west, Zong-Zhou (near present day Xi’an). These clan members were given titles (we now translate these using traditional European terms, such as “duke,” and “marquis”) and large numbers of retainers. They were commissioned to rule their “fiefs” directly, on behalf of the Zhou, and to pass their titled prerogatives on to their eldest sons. In order to assure the allegiance of other major contributors to the conquest, leading members of certain non-Zhou clans were “adopted” as “uncles” and given fiefs in a similar way. In this manner, the Zhou kings were able to extend a clan-based form of indirect rule, based on principle of hereditary feudalism, over virtually all regions of the Shang state.” /+/

Social Classes and Women in the Zhou Period

A succinct statement of the classical model of social classes is found in the “Treatise on Food and Money”: “There are appropriate enterprises for each of the four classes of people: the shi class, the farmers, the artisans, and the merchants. Those who study in order to attain their offices are called shi. Those who reclaim land and plant grain are called farmers. Those who create objects by means of their skills are called artisans. Those who circulate wealth and sell goods are called merchants. [Source: Han shu 24a.1117-18, “Treatise on Food and Money” by Ban Gu, 1st century A.D., Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu]

Dr. Robert Eno of Indiana University wrote: “Such a covenant would have been most unusual in the context of ancient China. By the latter centuries of the Zhou, a conventional view of society had emerged which conceived of four classes of people, ranked according to their ethical worth: the patrician elite, who did not labor with their hands, followed by peasants, artisans, and, least worthy, merchants. Throughout Chinese history there has been a strong bias against merchants (much as in medieval Europe): they were often viewed as social parasites – despite the fact that wealthy merchants often exercised great social influence. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu /+/ ]

“Ancient China was a patriarchal society – the term “sexist” would not begin to suggest the categorical divide which social mores created between the sexes, all to the disadvantage of women (and in this way, very much adhering to the norm for premodern societies). Virtually all positions of public power were understood to belong exclusively to men. Women did play important roles in some areas of religion, serving as spirit mediums in some cases and as essential participants in patrician clan rites, and there is considerable evidence of their informal influence within clan social structures. /+/

“However, in the sphere of public politics, women were, with some notable exceptions, viewed as evil influences. The families of rulers’ wives often enjoyed extensive and irregular privileges, and the sexual allure of wives and concubines was viewed as a most dangerous influence upon rulers, whose motives and inclinations had so great an effect upon their subjects. The classic evil rulers – the last kings of the Xia and Shang, and the kings who brought the Western Zhou to ruin – are all pictured as being under the influence of wives and concubines. It is noteworthy that the formal charges here proclaimed against the Shang ruler are almost exclusively tied to his wife’s influence.” /+/

Gentleman Shi Class of Classical China


Tao Gong by Japanese artist Ogata Korin

Dr. Robert Eno of Indiana University wrote:“Among the profound social changes that mark” the of the Eastern Zhou period (770-221 B.C.), “none is as important as the diminishment in the security of aristocratic privilege and the rise of a new class of people who competed with the nobility for access to wealth, power, and prestige. This new class is sometimes called the class of “scholars,” and other times the class of “knights,” because many of its members sought to rise in society by leans of learning or by means of skills in warfare. We will refer to it here as the class of “gentlemen,” which translates the Chinese term shi.” It denotes “a trained warrior possessing the learning and etiquette of the nobility.” [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu /+/ ]

“The division of Jin in 453 B.C., in which a ruling house sanctioned by Zhou tradition was displaced by three upstart patrician clans who sliced the old state into smaller ones over which they ruled, was part of a larger process in which the prerogatives of the old patrician class began to decay. While it is possible to view this as the end of the Zhou aristocracy, it is probably more accurate to say instead that the boundary between the older clans of high birth and the common people became more porous. It is during this period that the word “shi”...came to be applied to a class of people, and the characteristics of the members of the shi class came to be viewed as a function of training rather than birth (though of course, birth still largely determined who was likely to receive training). Being a shi thus became a goal rather than a mere fact. The most famous theoretician of this new view of the manly ideal was Confucius (551-479 B.C.). /+/

“Most of our philosophers were members of this new “middle” class. Confucius, for example, was born to parents who appear to have had some noble ancestors, but who were themselves insignificant subjects of the ruler of the state of Lu. Confucius’s considerable contemporary reputation rested entirely on his achievements rather than on his birth, and he was also known for his willingness to accept men of any social backgrounds as his students. Mozi, the first great opponent of Confucianism, seems to have been a man from the lowest classes of society, as were most of his followers. Much of his opposition to Confucianism was due to his suspicion of the Confucian ritual syllabus, which celebrated many aspects of the aristocratic society of the Western Zhou. But Mozi and Confucius were united in their agreement that all people were born with similar capacities, and that social advancement should be open to any person (actually, any man) who could make good use of those capacities. Even thinkers who were, by birth, noble, such as the Legalist Han Feizi, agreed with these ideas. /+/

Evolution of the Gentleman Shi Class of Classical China

Dr. Eno wrote: “It is likely that there was no point in Chinese history when class divisions were so firm that no avenues for social advancement existed. But through the Shang and Zhou, the division between those who were highborn and commoners was seen as important and, to some degree, reflected a notion that ability and excellence were familial rather than individual attributes. The nobility was viewed as an innately better class of people than peasants and other lowborn people – though the firmness of this division was probably never as absolute as it tended to be in most premodern European cultures. Moreover, only members of the aristocracy were entitled to take part in the political life of the state. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu /+/ ]

“All significant offices of responsibility and reward were hereditary in nature. Moreover, warfare, which during the Western Zhou meant warfare against non-Chinese peoples rather than civil war, was very much an aristocratic sport. The Chinese were skilled at chariot war, archery, and swordsmanship, and all these types of war required considerable training. Although wars were fought with peasant conscripts serving as weakly armed supporting infantry (the bronze used in weapons of war was too expensive to supply to common troops), only noblemen were raised with the kind of leisure time and family training that could nurture expertise in chariot war. /+/

“The exaltation of the aristocracy was relatively easy to maintain during the stable era of the Western Zhou (that is, until the fall of the Western capital in 771). Under the strong rule of the central Zhou kings, there was no pressing threat to the political well being of those in power that would require them to look outside the nobility for people whose worth could add to their security. This began to change when the dynasty moved east and power began to be fragmented among the feudal lords. Under conditions of civil war and political intrigue, power-holders could not always afford to accept the fact that the son of the last chief-general of the state army had to inherit his father’s post, regardless of his abilities. The risks of aristocratic incompetence and the lure of the untapped talents of the lower class became increasingly apparent, and from the late eighth century on, we begin to note the appearance of low-born men of ability in roles of political significance. /+/

“The birth of philosophy in Classical China may legitimately be viewed as the expression of the new gentleman class, members of which used learning as a way to gain social leverage. By formulating the prescriptions that would rescue China from the chaos that aristocratic rule had brought, this commoner class was seizing the intellectual prerogative of the aristocracy to design the governance of China. Even further, many of these thinkers articulated a new vision of personal excellence that superseded the traditions of the aristocratic class, and instead pictured perfection – sagehood – as a quality that could be attained by any person, regardless of birth. The path to this new “moral aristocracy,” each thinker proclaimed, was nothing more than his own Dao (“Way” or teaching), which could recreate an ordinary peasant as a sage as great as the legendary emperors Yao and Shun – and it was no accident that in the stories of these greatest of all rulers, each rejects his own son as heir to his throne and passes the kingship instead to a man of low birth and high merit. For the early Chinese philosophers, anyone could achieve the goal of becoming “a sage within and king without.” In this, they were simply reflecting the new values of the age in which they lived. /+/

Proper Patrician Class Behavior in Ancient China


Dai Jin fishing on the Wei River

In the story “Han Qi Visits the State of Zheng”, after a banquet, the patrician Fuzi reproved Zichan. “When dealing with the officers of a great state,” he said, “one must be careful! If we give them occasions to laugh at us they will treat us with contempt. Even were we to observe all the points of ritual ceremony they would treat us as bumpkins, and if we appear to be a state that has lost its ritual, what chance do we have of seeking favored treatment from their states? My lord, Kong Zhang’s conduct was a disgrace to you!” [Source: “Han Qi Visits the State of Zheng” from The Zuo zhuan, a very large historical text, which covers the period 722-468 B.C. ***]

Dr. Eno wrote: “In ancient China, the greatest political demarcation lay between states that possessed or had adopted the patterns of Zhou patrician conduct (“ritual,” or, to use the Chinese term, li) and those which did not. The latter were viewed as “barbarian,” and their people were seen as midway between humans and animals. Fuzi was concerned that were Han Qi’s entourage to return to Jin with tales of the disrupted state banquet, the patricians of Jin would cease to take Zheng seriously as a valued ally. Zichan, however, takes Fuzi’s comment as an attempt to undermine his own authority. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu /+/ ]

According to the story “Han Qi Visits the State of Zheng”: “Have I issued improper commands?” replied Zichan with heat. “Have I lacked faith in giving orders? Have I been partial in meting out legal punishments? Have I allowed legal proceedings to become disorderly? Have I been incautious in assembling the daily court? Have I caused orders to be disobeyed? Have I brought upon us the contempt of great states? Have I wearied the people of the state without any resultant accomplishments or allowed crimes to escape my knowledge? Such things would indeed be my shame. Now, Kong Zhang is the descendant of Zikong, who was the elder brother of our former ruler. ***

Eno wrote: “A number of the values of the patrician state are visible in these formulas: the need for political orderliness and a chain of command are paramount. The state government is responsible for managing a fair legal process, and in exercising powers to command the time and labor of the general population, the government was expected to act rationally and in the interests of the state. Rulers could not legitimately impose their personal whims upon the people of the state.” /+/

Social Control Methods in Ancient China

In the story “Han Qi Visits the State of Zheng,” the character Zichan says: “I have heard that a junzi (gentleman* ) does not find it difficult to endure without wealth, but rather fears that he should occupy an office and fail to establish a good reputation. I have heard that one who acts in government does not find it difficult to serve great states or nurture small ones, but rather fears that he may violate ritual conduct in keeping his position secure. Now, if the officers of large states who are sent on state business to smaller ones could obtain for themselves anything they wish, how would their demands ever be met? And if one were gratified but the next denied, the perceived offence would be enlarged. If one cannot employ appropriate ritual courtesies to repulse the demands of a great state like Jin, its demands will be insatiable. [Source: “Han Qi Visits the State of Zheng” from The Zuo zhuan, a very large historical text, which covers the period 722-468 B.C. **]

Dr. Eno wrote: “The society of the late Zhou gradually evolved away from political structures that emphasized the key role of charismatic individuals — a faith in the adequacy of cultivated patricians to keep order — and towards structures that relied on the relatively mechanistic application of punitive law codes. Zichan’s speech endorses the modernistic movement towards rule by law. He denies that lapses by members of the state are symptoms of moral failings in the political leaders, and “proves” this by citing the great moral authority of the “former kings” (here denoting the great founding kings of the Zhou). By ascribing to those sages the invention of codes of punishment, he endorses the validity of the rule of law.” [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu /+/]

“Zichan here articulates some of the sophisticated political values that evolved during the centuries of political struggle of the Eastern Zhou. In particular, note that he expresses a willingness to come to terms with political realities and fulfill the amoral function of surviving through subservience to the strong, but he clearly holds that within such submission to power politics there remains significant leeway for moral action, so long as the independent legitimacy of ritual codes are acknowledged by all.While patrician codes of behavior, li, are not strong enough to regulate the greater balance of power, Zichan is optimistic that they can provide political actors with sufficient leverage to allow them to live an ethical life within the context of chaotic times.” /+/

In the late Spring and Autum period Jin was “attempting to regain the position of hegemon over the lords of the various patrician states (the “patrician lords”). Gaining such recognition seems to have been, according to the historical accounts, a matter of combining both military and moral force. It would be unlikely that states which were not direct military allies of a would-be hegemon would consent to respond to his commands unless he and his state had demonstrated a certain degree of even-handedness and self-restraint in conducting affairs among its allies.” /+/

Bureaucratic Office and Rank in Ancient China


King Zhao

Dr. Eno wrote: “The texts that we possess for the classical and early imperial periods in China are deeply concerned with issues of official rank. By the time of the mid-Han Dynasty, about the beginning of the Christian Era in the West, the entire empire was ruled by a complex and diversified bureaucracy carefully sorted into about two dozen levels of ranks, each with a corresponding salary level and set of rules concerning variances from the basic norms. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu /+/ ]

“From the Warring States period on, authors of texts concerning the distant past seem always to have assumed that the concepts of office, rank, and salary had been preoccupations since the beginnings of civilization and governance (much as, perhaps, most children today might find it hard to imagine the concept of schools without grades). For these writers, offices and ranks were as basic to the grammar of social life as were lineage associations and the regularities of the calendar. “Recovering” the bureaucratic system of the Western Zhou, that time of utopian rule, was an obsession among many thinkers from this era, who, perhaps on the basis of a limited set of genuine clues, fashioned increasingly complex blueprints of what this system had looked like. /+/

“The ultimate model, “unearthed” during the mid-Han and identified as the administrative hierarchy devised for the Zhou by the Duke of Zhou, is a text known today as the “Institutes of the Zhou” ( Zhou li). Its bureaucratic map embraces a working government of tens of thousands, immaculately organized in bureaus and sub-bureaus. The text we are reading here, composed within decades of the popularization of the “Institutes of Zhou,” is not unusual in assuming that even a thousand years earlier, there was no form of public service that was not codified as a ranked and salaried office within a centralized hierarchy. Later in the course, when we explore early Zhou inscriptional texts unknown to late Zhou and Han writers, we will be able to better assess the degree to which official hierarchies had become coherently articulated during the pre-Classical period.” /+/

Inheritance, Political Succession and Retainers in Ancient China

Dr. Eno wrote: “Primogeniture (inheritance of property and title by the first son) was the supposed rule in Zhou China: how, then, could a former ruler have had an elder brother? The designation “first” son was, in fact, a flexible one. Men could marry many women: one only would be designated “principal wife,” the others would be concubines. The principal wife’s son was the heir. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu /+/ ]

“However, the designation was not inflexibly fixed anda favored concubine might displace a wife, her son consequently coming to outrank brothers who might be elder to him, or to have initially been of higher rank. These vagaries of patrician clan practice led, during the Eastern Zhou, to innumerable “civil” wars of succession in the many patrician states, providing a colorful supplement to the endless inter-state wars that characterized the struggles of rulers to become hegemons or kings, enlarge their states, or just avoid the boredom of a reign without slaughter.” /+/

According to the story “Han Qi Visits the State of Zheng”: Kong Zhang is the heir of a chief minister and has himself inherited the rank of a great officer. He has been charged with diplomatic visits to all of the great patrician states, he is admired by the men of this state and known to the patrician lords. He has his place at the court and is in charge of the ancestral sacrifices of his house. He possesses the right to the income of the estate he has been granted in Zheng, and he provides levies to the state army in times of war. When the ruling household holds funerals or sacrificial rites, he performs his official functions therein. The ruler sends him a portion of the meats offered at his lineage sacrifices, and Kong Zhang returns to the ruler portions of the sacrificial meats offered by his own lineage branch. When sacrificial rites are performed in the ruler’s temples, he occupies an official place. [Source: “Han Qi Visits the State of Zheng” from The Zuo zhuan, covering the period 722-468 B.C.]

“Patrician strongmen, such as Han Qi and the Earl of Zheng [from the story “Han Qi Visits the State of Zheng”], commonly had their own home guard of swordsmen and other usefully skilled men, whom they housed, fed, and treated with some respect. These men were known as “retainers,” and a wealthy and well placed patrician might have scores of such men in his service. Retainers could be the descendants of patrician families – younger sons who did not inherit the lands and titles of their ancestors – or they could be men of uncertain birth. In this case, it is likely that the retainers mentioned were the followers of Han Qi, who had traveled with him to Zheng. Kong Zhang, as a member of the ruling group of Zheng, appeared ridiculous when he stood with such men rather than at his ceremonial place, and even sillier when he hid among the musicians, men of no rank whatever. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu /+/ ]

Tax Systems and Large-Scale Public Works in Ancient China


cowrie-shell-shaped coins

According to the “Treatise on Food and Money”: “There were two kinds of tax: the military levy and the production tax. The production tax concerned the one-tenth of total family grain production which was the product of its share of the public field, and also taxes on the crafted goods sold by artisans, merchant profits, and any fishing or forestry incomes of lands managed by wardens. The military levy was used to supply the armies with carts and carriages, horses, armor, and arms, as well as including quotas for infantry service. These taxes fully provided for the expenses of the state treasury and 7 arsenals, and for the gifts and grants that were bestowed by the state. The production tax was used to provide for the sacrifices to heaven and to earth, for the royal clan sacrifices, and for service to all the many spirits. It supplied the needs of the household of the Son of Heaven, for the salaries and sustenance of the state officials, and for miscellaneous state expenses. [Source: Han shu 24a.1118-23,“Treatise on Food and Money” by Ban Gu, 1st century A.D.]

Dr. Eno wrote: This “tax regulation of 594 B.C. is widely discussed in various texts as a symptom of social decline. According to the traditional view, prior to this act, production taxes for the farming population were covered by the labor contributed to the public field (the well-field system). This may have been the case, or, if the well-field system did not, in fact, exist, the record may indicate a shift from taxing a harvest output to taxing land owned. This would have been an advantage to patrimonial estate holders as their incomes would have been guaranteed (at great cost to the security of the farming population). It may also indicate a shift in the concept of land ownership, regarding the peasants like land owners, rather than as serf-like subjects settled on the lord’s land. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu /+/ ]

“This new method of taxation levied on acreage may be linked to the rise of large-scale public works, such as the building of dams, canals, and state walls (the greatest of these ultimately being linked as the Great Wall of China). During the centuries of the late Spring and Autumn and early Warring States periods, iron technology was first applied to agriculture; along with new developments in irrigation and planting techniques, this greatly increased productivity. Under these conditions, estate holders would have found that the principal traditional form of tax, labor due on patrician fields, was not so efficient as a tax on personal crop yields plus labor time, directed no longer to the lord’s crops, but instead to public works. The economic and military benefits of these works became increasingly critical during the Warring States period, when competition among states drove governments towards increased size, aggressiveness, and public control.

Education in Ancient China

According to “The “Treatise on Food and Money”: “In each precinct there was a lower school and in each township there was an upper school. The lower schools enlightened children in basic teachings; in the upper schools, ritual comportment was practiced and its transforming effects were illustrated.” In the winter months when little agricultural work was done, “ those young boys who could be spared from labor would go to the lower school rooms. Those eight years of age (seven, Western style) would begin with elementary studies, such as the calendar and the directions, writing and arithmetic. At this age, they would begin to learn the rules of family manners and how to act towards elders. At the age of fifteen they would begin higher level studies, learning the rituals and music of the former kings and the etiquette of the court for rulers and ministers. Those who showed exceptional abilities would be transferred to the lower or upper schools of the township, and the best of the township students would be transferred to the youth academy of their patrician state. [Source: “Treatise on Food and Money” by Ban Gu, 1st century A.D. <<< ]

“Each year, the patrician lords would present to the Son of Heaven exceptional young men from their academies. These would then study at the Grand Academy, and would be called “rising shi.” Those whose comportment and abilities were equal in quality would be distinguished through a competition of archery, after which all graduates would be awarded an official grade of rank.” <<<

Dr. Eno wrote: “This highly idealized portrait of a centralized state system of education is unlikely to have had any close relationship to pre-Classical practice. However, it is likely to be composed of elements from far less systematized local practices, which did reflect principles of promotion according to abilities. Just when this criterion, as opposed to the criterion of high birth, began to play a significant role in the social training of individuals is unclear. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu /+/ ]

“By the time of the Han Dynasty, the role of state education had become so overwhelming in China (beyond anything comparable in the West) that many very elaborate portraits of the “system of the Zhou sages” were fabricated. Apart from certain elements very obviously derived from late Confucianism, these models share certain features in common. They all picture formal education as being offered solely to males beginning about the age of seven (Western style), involving intense training in the ritual forms of etiquette and the “gentlemanly” martial arts, particularly archery (which came to be seen as a measure of a person’s inner moral compass), and in writing and arithmetic. The texts also agree in dividing the curriculum into elementary and advanced levels, and in assuming a hierarchy of schools. /+/

“A striking feature of this text is that it implies that no criterion for birth was involved in early schooling, and that commoner children of exceptional talent could emerge as “rising shi,” a patrician designation. It is very likely that the history of education during the Classical period moved in a direction away from a system based on birth towards one based on talent, but unlikely that the early Zhou system provided training to non-patrician children. Note that the basic criterion for schooling was that children “could be spared from labor,” implying at least a minimum of economic surplus on the part of the family. (In the later centuries of the post-Classical era, the principle of merit in educational promotion led many poor families to live on the edge of starvation in order to invest in sending a son who could have contributed field labor to a tutor or a school instead. In a small percentage of cases, the son’s educational success and subsequent official appointment did transform the social and financial class of his family.) /+/

Rhetoric and Political Persuasion in the Warring State Period


bronze tallies with gold inscriptions

Dr. Eno wrote: “One of the consequences of the increasing social mobility characteristic of the Warring States period was the great weight that was attached to the ability to think quickly and speak well. Cleverness of speech came to be seen as a measure of practical acumen, and those who sought to rise to high positions within their home states or who sought positions at courts abroad studied the arts of rhetoric with great earnestness. At the courts of rulers and powerful warlords, courtiers vied with one another to win or maintain the trust of those in power, who could reward and punish at their whim. Under these conditions, the art of persuasion became an important aspect of the training of promising men. There has been too little study done of the rhetorical arts of ancient China – a sharp contrast with the case of Greece, where rhetoric early on became a self-conscious art, generating manuals and theoretical treatises by as authoritative as Aristotle.[Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu /+/ ]

According to the Zhanguo ce: Zou Ji, Prime Minister of the state of Qi, was very tall, with a lithe and handsome figure. Donning his court robes and cap, he caught sight of himself in the mirror. “Whom do you think is better looking,” he asked his wife, “Lord Xu of Chengbei or me?”“You are far better looking!” said his wife. “How could Lord Xu compare to you?” But Lord Xu was famous in Qi for his good looks, and still feeling uneasy about it, Zou Ji asked his concubine as well. “Who is better looking, Lord Xu or I?”She too answered, “How could Lord Xu compare to you!”The next morning a guest came to visit, and while sitting and talking with him Zou Ji asked, “Whom do you think is better looking, Lord Xu or me?” “Lord Xu does not compare with you!” said the guest. [Source: Zhanguo ce, Qi ce 122, The Zhanguo ce is an ancient Chinese text that contains stories of political manipulation and warfare during the Warring States period +++]

“The following day, Lord Xu himself came to call. Zou Ji gazed at him for a long time and realized that he fell short of Lord Xu. When he went to observe himself again in the mirror he saw he fell far short indeed. That night when he went to bed he lay thinking. “My wife said I was better looking because she favors me. My concubine said I was better looking because she fears me. My guest said I was better looking because he wanted something from me!” +++

Upon his next visit to court he appeared before King Wei and said, “I am well aware that I am not as good looking as Lord Xu. Yet my wife, who favors me, my concubine, who fears me, and a guest who came to call because he wanted something from me all told me that I am better looking than Lord Xu. Now the state of Qi is a thousand square and contains within it a hundred and twenty cities. Within it there are no the palace ladies and attendants who do not favor Your Majesty, no court ministers who do not fear you, and no one within its four borders who does not want something from you. Looking at it like this, the truth must surely be hidden from your sight!” +++

““You are right!” said the King, and he issued an order: “Any minister, officer, or common person who will criticize my faults to my face shall receive the highest reward. Any who submit a memorial remonstrating with me shall receive a second class reward. Any who stand in the markets and utter public reproaches of me that reach my ears shall receive a reward of the third class.” When the notice was first issued, the officials crowded into palace presenting remonstrances until the court gateway looked like a marketplace. After several months, they came only sporadically. By the time a year had gone by, though people may have wished to say something, there was nothing left to criticize. Thereupon the states of Yan, Zhao, Han, and Wei all submitted as subjects to the court of Qi. This is called “a war won within the confines of one’s court.” +++

Chu Long Advises the Dowager Queen: An Example of Warring State Rhetoric and Persuasion

Dr. Eno wrote: “The following persuasion is not one that persuaders would have used directly in remonstrating with a ruler or showing off their talents. The situation it describes would rarely have been encountered – there were very few instances of de facto power falling so openly into the hands of a woman, and the issue of protecting a son from dangers was a narrow one. It is likely that this account was preserved in the Intrigues because it so gracefully exemplifies a cardinal lesson of persuasion: that one’s rhetorical moves much match the mood and character of the ruler addressed. Persuasion was not simply a matter of memorizing a bag of tricks; it was an art, as this anecdote clearly intends to illustrate. In the tale, the minister Chu Long of Zhao addresses the widow of his late ruler soon after her husband’s death. His heir apparent, her first-born son, is unready for the throne, and she has come to his assistance by managing the daily affairs at court. As indicated in the story, the state of Qi has demanded that she send her younger son, titled the Lord of Chang’an, to Qi as a hostage before it will agree to send troops to aid Zhao in repelling the armies of Qin. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu ]

According to the Zhanguo ce: “When the Dowager Queen of Zhao first took charge of state affairs, Qin launched a sudden attack. Zhao sent a request for aid to Qi, but Qi replied, “We will dispatch troops only if you send the Lord of Chang’an to us as a good-faith hostage.” The Queen flatly refused. Her ministers strongly remonstrated with her, but she told them in no uncertain terms, “I will spit in the face of the next person who tells me I must send the Lord of Chang’an as a hostage!”The General of the Left, Chu Long, requested an audience with the Dowager Queen. She was sitting in a rage awaiting him as he entered the hall. [Source: Zhanguo ce, Zhao ce 286 +++]

“Though he made an effort to hurry, he shuffled very slowly across to stand before her. “Your aged servant has an injured leg,” he apologized. “I cannot walk very quickly. That is why it has been very long since I have been able to come see you. From my own ills I felt a sense of empathy, and concerned that your majesty might also be suffering from some ailment I have looked eagerly for an opportunity to visit your majesty.” The Queen replied, “I myself must depend upon a sedan chair to move about.”“May I trust that your majesty’s appetite remains healthy?” “I live entirely on gruel.” “I find that I am frequently without any appetite at all now,” said Chu Long, “and so I force myself to walk three or four each day. It lets me find a little pleasure in my food, and it is good for my body.” “I could not manage as much,” said the Queen. Her fierce countenance had somewhat relaxed. +++

“Chu Long said, “I have an offspring named Shuqi, my youngest son. He is a worthless youth, but in my dotage I love him dearly and wish that he could wear the black robes of the Palace Guard. And so your aged servant makes this request at the risk of his life!” “I am pleased to approve it,” said the Queen. “How old is he?” “Only fifteen,” replied Chu Long. “Very young indeed. But it has been my hope to see him well taken care of before I fall by the wayside.” “So men too dote upon their young sons?” asked the Queen. “More than women.” replied Chen Long. +++

““Oh no,” laughed the Queen. “With mothers it is an extraordinary thing!” “And yet,” continued Chu Zhe, “if I may be so bold, it seems your majesty loves your daughter, the Queen of Yan, more than your son, the Lord of Chang’an.” “You are mistaken,” replied the Queen. “I am much fonder of the Lord of Chang’an.” “When parents love their children,” said Chu Long, “they plan for their futures with great care. When you sent off your daughter off upon her marriage to the king of Yan, you clung to her heels and wept, bereft with grief that she was departing far away. But once she was gone, you prayed at every sacrifice saying, ‘Let her not return!’ It was not that you did not long for her, but that you were set on her future, and hoped that her sons and grandsons would one day sit upon the throne in Yan” “Yes, that is so” said the Queen. “Now, from the time that Zhao first became a state until three generations ago, was there any younger son of the royal family who held an estate as a marquis whose descendants still hold that title?” “No,” said the Queen. /+/

““And this is not only so in Zhao. In other states, are there any descendants of such younger sons still in possession of the ranks of their forbears?” “I have not heard of any.” “In some of those cases,” said Chu Long, “the younger son met disaster in his lifetimes; in other cases it was his sons or grandson who encountered misfortune. How could it be that every such younger son was unworthy? Misfortune came to them because they were granted high honors without having achieved any merit, awarded rich gifts of land without having worked for them, and bestowed great emblems of rank and office. Now your majesty has honored your son with the title Lord of Chang’an and given him an estate of rich and fertile lands, bestowing on him great emblems of rank and office. Yet to this day you have not allowed him to do anything to win merit for the state of Zhao. Should the unthinkable happen and your majesty suddenly pass from the scene, what support could he rely on in the state of Zhao? It is because it seemed to me that you had not planned very carefully for his future that I presumed you did not seem to care as much for him as for your daughter, the Queen of Yan.”“All right,” replied the Dowager Queen. “I leave it to you to arrange things as you see fit.”Thereupon the Lord of Chang’an was provided an escort of a hundred chariots and sent off as a good-faith hostage, and the troops of Qi were quickly dispatched.” +++

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, University of Washington

Text Sources: Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu /+/ ; Asia for Educators, Columbia University afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>; University of Washington’s Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization, depts.washington.edu/chinaciv /=\; National Palace Museum, Taipei npm.gov.tw \=/ Library of Congress; New York Times; Washington Post; Los Angeles Times; China National Tourist Office (CNTO); Xinhua; China.org; China Daily; Japan News; Times of London; National Geographic; The New Yorker; Time; Newsweek; Reuters; Associated Press; Lonely Planet Guides; Compton’s Encyclopedia; Smithsonian magazine; The Guardian; Yomiuri Shimbun; AFP; Wikipedia; BBC. Many sources are cited at the end of the facts for which they are used.

Last updated November 2016

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