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1: The Feudal Age

Preface || 2: Law and Government >>

It is a very common thing now-a-days to meet people who are going to "China," which can be reached by the Siberian railway in fourteen or fifteen days. This brings us at once to the question—What is meant by the term China?

Taken in its widest sense, the term includes Mongolia, Manchuria, Eastern Turkestan, Tibet, and the Eighteen Provinces, the whole being equivalent to an area of some five million square miles, that is, considerably more than twice the size of the United States of America. But for a study of manners and customs and modes of thought of the Chinese people, we must confine ourselves to that portion of the whole which is known to the Chinese as the "Eighteen Provinces," and to us as China Proper. This portion of the empire occupies not quite two- fifths of the whole, covering an area of somewhat more than a million and a half square miles. Its chief landmarks may be roughly stated as Peking, the capital, in the north; Canton, the great commercial centre, in the south; Shanghai, on the east; and the Tibetan frontier on the west.

Any one who will take the trouble to look up these four points on a map, representing as they do central points on the four sides of a rough square, will soon realize the absurdity of asking a returning traveller the very much asked question, How do you like China? Fancy asking a Chinaman, who had spent a year or two in England, how he liked Europe! Peking, for instance, stands on the same parallel of latitude as Madrid; whereas Canton coincides similarly with Calcutta. Within the square indicated by the four points enumerated above will be found variations of climate, flowers, fruit, vegetables and animals —not to mention human beings—distributed in very much the same way as in Europe. The climate of Peking is exceedingly dry and bracing; no rain, and hardly any snow, falling between October and April. The really hot weather lasts only for six or eight weeks, about July and August—and even then the nights are always cool; while for six or eight weeks between December and February there may be a couple of feet of ice on the river. Canton, on the other hand, has a tropical climate, with a long damp enervating summer and a short bleak winter. The old story runs that snow has only been seen once in Canton, and then it was thought by the people to be falling cotton-wool.

The northern provinces are remarkable for vast level plains, dotted with villages, the houses of which are built of mud. In the southern provinces will be found long stretches of mountain scenery, vying in loveliness with anything to be seen elsewhere. Monasteries are built high up on the hills, often on almost inaccessible crags; and there the well-to-do Chinaman is wont to escape from the fierce heat of the southern summer. On one particular mountain near Canton, there are said to be no fewer than one hundred of such monasteries, all of which reserve apartments for guests, and are glad to be able to add to their funds by so doing.

In the north of China, Mongolian ponies, splendid mules, and donkeys are seen in large quantities; also the two-humped camel, which carries heavy loads across the plains of Mongolia. In the south, until the advent of the railway, travellers had to choose between the sedan- chair carried on the shoulders of stalwart coolies, or the slower but more comfortable house-boat. Before steamers began to ply on the coast, a candidate for the doctor's degree at the great triennial examination would take three months to travel from Canton to Peking. Urgent dispatches, however, were often forwarded by relays of riders at the rate of two hundred miles a day.

The market in Peking is supplied, among other things, with excellent mutton from a fat-tailed breed of sheep, chiefly for the largely Mohammedan population; but the sheep will not live in southern China, where the goat takes its place. The pig is found everywhere, and represents beef in our market, the latter being extremely unpalatable to the ordinary Chinaman, partly perhaps because Confucius forbade men to slaughter the animal which draws the plough and contributes so much to the welfare of mankind. The staple food, the "bread" of the people in the Chinese Empire, is nominally rice; but this is too costly for the peasant of northern China to import, and he falls back on millet as its substitute. Apples, pears, grapes, melons, and walnuts grow abundantly in the north; the southern fruits are the banana, the orange, the pineapple, the mango, the pomelo, the lichee, and similar fruits of a more tropical character.

Cold storage has been practised by the Chinese for centuries. Blocks of ice are cut from the river for that purpose; and on a hot summer's day a Peking coolie can obtain an iced drink at an almost infinitesimal cost. Grapes are preserved from autumn until the following May and June by the simple process of sticking the stalk of the bunch into a large hard pear, and putting it away carefully in the ice-house. Even at Ningpo, close to our central point on the eastern coast of China, thin layers of ice are collected from pools and ditches, and successfully stored for use in the following summer.

The inhabitants of the coast provinces are distinguished from the dwellers in the north and in the far interior by a marked alertness of mind and general temperament. The Chinese themselves declare that virtue is associated with mountains, wisdom with water, cynically implying that no one is both virtuous and wise. Between the inhabitants of the various provinces there is little love lost. Northerners fear and hate southerners, and the latter hold the former in infinite scorn and contempt. Thus, when in 1860 the Franco-British force made for Peking, it was easy enough to secure the services of any number of Cantonese, who remained as faithful as though the attack had been directed against some third nationality.

The population of China has never been exactly ascertained. It has been variously estimated by foreign travellers, Sacharoff, in 1842, placing the figure at over four hundred millions. The latest census, taken in 1902, is said to yield a total of four hundred and ten millions. Perhaps three hundred millions would be a juster estimate; even that would absorb no less than one-fifth of the human race. From this total it is easy to calculate that if the Chinese people were to walk past a given point in single file, the procession would never end; long before the last of the three hundred millions had passed by, a new generation would have sprung up to continue the neverending line. The census, however, is a very old institution with the Chinese; and we learn that in A.D. 156 the total population of the China of those days was returned as a little over fifty millions. In more modern times, the process of taking the census consists in serving out house-tickets to the head of every household, who is responsible for a proper return of all the inmates; but as there is no fixed day for which these tickets are returnable, the results are approximate rather than exact.

Again, it is not uncommon to hear people talking of the Chinese language as if it were a single tongue spoken all over China after a more or less uniform standard. But the fact is that the colloquial is broken up into at least eight dialects, each so strongly marked as to constitute eight languages as different to the ear, one from another, as English, Dutch and German, or French, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese. A Shanghai man, for instance, is unintelligible to a Cantonese, and so on. All officials are obliged, and all of the better educated merchants and others endeavour, if only for business purposes, to learn something of the dialect spoken at the court of Peking; and this is what is popularly known as "Mandarin." The written language remains the same for the whole empire; which merely means that ideas set down on paper after a uniform system are spoken with different sounds, just as the Arabic numerals are written uniformly in England, France and Germany, but are pronounced in a totally different manner.

The only difficulty of the spoken language, of no matter what dialect, lies in the "tones," which simply means the different intonations which may be given to one and the same sound, thus producing so many entirely different meanings. But for these tones, the colloquial of China would be absurdly easy, inasmuch as there is no such thing as grammar, in the sense of gender, number, case, mood, tense, or any of the variations we understand by that term. Many amusing examples are current of blunders committed by faulty speakers, such as that of the student who told his servant to bring him a goose, when what he really wanted was some salt, both goose and salt having the same sound, yen, but quite different intonations. The following specimen has the advantage of being true. A British official reported to the Foreign Office that the people of Tientsin were in the habit of shouting after foreigners, "Mao-tsu, mao-tsu" (pronounced mowdza, ow as in how), from which he gathered that they were much struck by the head- gear of the barbarian. Now, it is a fact that mao-tsu, uttered with a certain intonation, means a hat; but with another intonation, it means "hairy one," and the latter, referring to the big beards of foreigners, was the meaning intended to be conveyed. This epithet is still to be heard, and is often preceded by the adjective "red."

The written characters, known to have been in use for the past three thousand years, were originally rude pictures, as of men, birds, horses, dogs, houses, the numerals (one, two, three, four), etc., etc., and it is still possible to trace in the modified modern forms of these characters more or less striking resemblances to the objects intended. The next step was to put two or more characters together, to express by their combination an abstract idea, as, for instance, a hand holding a rod = father; but of course this simple process did not carry the Chinese very far, and they soon managed to hit on a joint picture and phonetic system, which enabled them to multiply characters indefinitely, new compounds being formed for use as required. It is thus that new characters can still be produced, if necessary, to express novel objects or ideas. The usual plan, however, is to combine existing terms in such a way as to suggest what is wanted. For instance, in preference to inventing a separate character for the piece of ordnance known as a "mortar," the Chinese, with an eye to its peculiar pose, gave it the appropriate name of a "frog gun."

Again, just as the natives and the dialects of the various parts of China differ one from another, although fundamentally the same people and the same language, so do the manners and customs differ to such an extent that habits of life and ceremonial regulations which prevail in one part of the empire do not necessarily prevail in another. Yet once more it will be found that the differences which appear irreconcilable at first, do not affect what is essential, but apply rather to matters of detail. Many travellers and others have described as customs of the Chinese customs which, as presented, refer to a part of China only, and not to the whole. For instance, the ornamental ceremonies connected with marriage vary in different provinces; but there is a certain ceremony, equivalent in one sense to signing the register, which is almost essential to every marriage contract. Bride and bridegroom must kneel down and call God to witness; they also pledge each other in wine from two cups joined together by a red string. Red is the colour for joy, as white is the colour for mourning. Chinese note-paper is always ruled with red lines or stamped with a red picture. One Chinese official who gave a dinner-party in foreign style, even went so far as to paste a piece of red paper on to each dinner-napkin, in order to counteract the unpropitious influence of white.

Reference has been made above to journeys performed by boat. In addition to the Yangtsze and the Yellow River or Hoang ho (pronounced Hwong haw), two of the most important rivers in the world, China is covered with a network of minor streams, which in southern China form the chief lines of transport. The Yangtsze is nothing more than a huge navigable river, crossing China Proper from west to east. The Yellow River, which, with the exception of a great loop to the north, runs on nearly parallel lines of latitude, has long been known as "China's Sorrow," and has been responsible for enormous loss of life and property. Its current is so swift that ordinary navigation is impossible, and to cross it in boats is an undertaking of considerable difficulty and danger. It is so called from the yellowness of its water, caused by the vast quantity of mud which is swept down by its rapid current to the sea; hence, the common saying, "When the Yellow River runs clear," as an equivalent of the Greek Kalends. The huge embankments, built to confine it to a given course, are continually being forced by any unusual press of extra water, with enormous damage to property and great loss of life, and from time to time this river has been known to change its route altogether, suddenly diverging, almost at a right angle. Up to the year 1851 the mouth of the river was to the south of the Shantung promontory, about lat. 34 N.; then, with hardly any warning, it began to flow to the north-east, finding an outlet to the north of the Shantung promontory, about lat. 38 N.

A certain number of connecting links have been formed between the chief lines of water communication, in the shape of artificial cuttings; but there is nothing worthy the name of canal except the rightly named Grand Canal, called by the Chinese the "river of locks," or alternatively the "transport river," because once used to convey rice from the south to Peking. This gigantic work, designed and executed in the thirteenth century by the Emperor Kublai Khan, extended to about six hundred and fifty miles in length, and completed an almost unbroken water communication between Peking and Canton. As a wonderful engineering feat it is indeed more than matched by the famous Great Wall, which dates back to a couple of hundred years before Christ, and which has been glorified as the last trace of man's handiwork on the globe to fade from the view of an imaginary person receding into space. Recent exploration shows that this wall is about eighteen hundred miles in length, stretching from a point on the seashore somewhat east of Peking, to the northern frontier of Tibet. Roughly speaking, it is twenty-two feet in height by twenty feet in breadth; at intervals of a hundred yards are towers forty feet high, the whole being built originally of brick, of which in some parts but mere traces now remain. Nor is this the only great wall; ruins of other walls on a considerable scale have lately been brought to light, the object of all being one and the same—to keep back the marauding Tartars.

Over the length and breadth of their boundless empire, with all its varying climates and inhabitants, the Chinese people are free to travel, for business or pleasure, at their own sweet will, and to take up their abode at any spot without let or hindrance. No passports are required; neither is any ordinary citizen obliged to possess other papers of identification. Chinese inns are not exposed to the annoyance of domicilary visits with reference to their clients for the time being; and so long as the latter pay their way, and refrain from molesting others, they will usually be free from molestation themselves. The Chinese, however, are not fond of travelling; they love their homes too well, and they further dread the inconveniences and dangers attached to travel in many other parts of the world. Boatmen, carters, and innkeepers have all of them bad reputations for extortionate charges; and the traveller may sometimes happen upon a "black inn," which is another name for a den of thieves. Still there have been many who travelled for the sake of beautiful scenery, or in order to visit famous spots of historical interest; not to mention the large body of officials who are constantly on the move, passing from post to post.

Among those who believe that every nation must have reached its present quarters from some other distant parts of the world, must be reckoned a few students of the ancient history of China. Coincidences in language and in manners and customs, mostly of a shadowy character, have led some to suggest Babylonia as the region from which the Chinese migrated to the land where they are now found. The Chinese possess authentic records of an indisputably early past, but throughout these records there is absolutely no mention, not even a hint, of any migration of the kind.

Tradition places the Golden Age of China so far back as three thousand years before Christ; for a sober survey of China's early civilization, it is not necessary to push further back than the tenth century B.C. We shall find evidence of such an advanced state of civilization at that later date as to leave no doubt of a very remote antiquity.

The China of those days, known even then as the Middle Kingdom, was a mere patch on the empire of to-day. It lay, almost lozenge-shaped, between the 34th and 40th parallels of latitude north, with the upper point of the lozenge resting on the modern Peking, and the lower on Si-an Fu in Shensi, whither the late Empress Dowager fled for safety during the Boxer rising in 1900. The ancient autocratic Imperial system had recently been disestablished, and a feudal system had taken its place. The country was divided up into a number of vassal states of varying size and importance, ruled each by its own baron, who swore allegiance to the sovereign of the Royal State. The relations, however, which came to subsist, as time went on, between these states, sovereign and vassal alike, as described in contemporary annals, often remind the reader of the relations which prevailed between the various political divisions of ancient Greece. The rivalries of Athens and Sparta, whose capitals were only one hundred and fifty miles apart— though a perusal of Thucydides makes one feel that at least half the world was involved—find their exact equivalent in the jealousies and animosities which stirred the feudal states of ancient China, and in the disastrous campaigns and bloody battles which the states fought with one another. We read of chariots and horsemanship; of feats of arms and deeds of individual heroism; of forced marches, and of night attacks in which the Chinese soldier was gagged with a kind of wooden bit, to prevent talking in the ranks; of territory annexed and reconquered, and of the violent deaths of rival rulers by poison or the dagger of the assassin.

When the armies of these states went into battle they formed a line, with the bowmen on the left and the spearmen on the right flank. The centre was occupied by chariots, each drawn by either three or four horses harnessed abreast. Swords, daggers, shields, iron-headed clubs some five to six feet in length and weighing from twelve to fifteen pounds, huge iron hooks, drums, cymbals, gongs, horns, banners and streamers innumerable, were also among the equipment of war. Beacon- fires of wolves' dung were lighted to announce the approach of an enemy and summon the inhabitants to arms. Quarter was rarely if ever given, and it was customary to cut the ears from the bodies of the slain. Parleys were conducted and terms of peace arranged under the shelter of a banner of truce, upon which two words were inscribed— "Stop fighting."

The beacon-fires above mentioned, very useful for summoning the feudal barons to the rescue in case of need, cost one sovereign his throne. He had a beautiful concubine, for the sake of whose company he neglected the affairs of government. The lady was of a melancholy turn, never being seen to smile. She said she loved the sound of rent silk, and to gratify her whim many fine pieces of silk were torn to shreds. The king offered a thousand ounces of gold to any one who would make her laugh; whereupon his chief minister suggested that the beacon-fires should be lighted to summon the feudal nobles with their armies, as though the royal house were in danger. The trick succeeded; for in the hurry-skurry that ensued the impassive girl positively laughed outright. Later on, when a real attack was made upon the capital by barbarian hordes, and the beacon-fires were again lighted, this time in stern reality, there was no response from the insulted nobles. The king was killed, and his concubine strangled herself.

Meanwhile, a high state of civilization was enjoyed by these feudal peoples, when not engaged in cutting each other's throats. They lived in thatched houses constructed of rammed earth and plaster, with beaten floors on which dry grass was strewn as carpet. Originally accustomed to sit on mats, they introduced chairs and tables at an early date; they drank an ardent spirit with their carefully cooked food, and wore robes of silk. Ballads were sung, and dances were performed, on ceremonial and festive occasions; hunting and fishing and agriculture were occupations for the men, while the women employed themselves in spinning and weaving. There were casters of bronze vessels, and workers in gold, silver, and iron; jade and other stones were cut and polished for ornaments. The written language was already highly developed, being much the same as we now find it. Indeed, the chief difference lies in the form of the characters, just as an old English text differs in form from a text of the present day. What we may call the syntax of the language has remained very much the same; and phrases from the old ballads of three thousand years ago, which have passed into the colloquial, are still readily understood, though of course pronounced according to the requirements of modern speech. We can no more say how Confucius (551-479 B.C.) pronounced Chinese, than we can say how Miltiades pronounced Greek when addressing his soldiers before the battle of Marathon (490 B.C.). The "books" which were read in ancient China consisted of thin slips of wood or bamboo, on which the characters were written by means of a pencil of wood or bamboo, slightly frayed at the end, so as to pick up a coloured liquid and transfer it to the tablets as required. Until recently, it was thought that the Chinese scratched their words on tablets of bamboo with a knife, but now we know that the knife was only used for scratching out, when a character was wrongly written.

The art of healing was practised among the Chinese in their pre-historic times, but the earliest efforts of a methodical character, of which we have any written record, belong to the period with which we are now dealing. There is indeed a work, entitled "Plain Questions," which is attributed to a legendary emperor of the Golden Age, who interrogates one of his ministers on the cause and cure of all kinds of diseases; as might be expected, it is not of any real value, nor can its date be carried back beyond a few centuries B.C.

Physicians of the feudal age classified diseases under the four seasons of the year: headaches and neuralgic affections under spring, skin diseases of all kinds under summer, fevers and agues under autumn, and bronchial and pulmonary complaints under winter. They treated the various complaints that fell under these headings by suitable doses of one or more ingredients taken from the five classes of drugs, derived from herbs, trees, living creatures, minerals, and grains, each of which class contained medicines of five flavours, with special properties: sour for nourishing the bones, acid for nourishing the muscles, salt for nourishing the blood-vessels, bitter for nourishing general vitality, and sweet for nourishing the flesh. The pulse has always been very much to the front in the treatment of disease; there are at least twenty-four varieties of pulse with which every doctor is supposed to be familiar, and some eminent doctors have claimed to distinguish no fewer than seventy-two. In the "Plain Questions" there is a sentence which points towards the circulation of the blood,—"All the blood is under the jurisdiction of the heart," a point beyond which the Chinese never seem to have pushed their investigations; but of this curious feature in their civilization, later on.

It was under the feudal system, perhaps a thousand years before Christ, that the people of China began to possess family names. Previous to that time there appear to have been tribal or clan names; these however were not in ordinary use among the individual members of each clan, who were known by their personal names only, bestowed upon them in childhood by their parents. Gradually, it became customary to prefix to the personal name a surname, adopted generally from the name of the place where the family lived, sometimes from an appellation or official title of a distinguished ancestor; places in China never take their names from individuals, as with us, and consequently there are no such names as Faringdon or Gislingham, the homes of the Fearings or Gislings of old. Thus, to use English terms, a boy who had been called "Welcome" by his parents might prefix the name of the place, Cambridge, where he was born, and call himself Cambridge Welcome, the surname always coming first in Chinese, as, for instance, in Li Hung- Chang. The Manchus, it must be remembered, have no surnames; that is to say, they do not use their clan or family names, but call themselves by their personal names only.

Chinese surnames, other than place names, are derived from a variety of sources: from nature, as River, Stone, Cave; from animals, as Bear, Sheep, Dragon; from birds, as Swallow, Pheasant; from the body, as Long-ears, Squint-eye; from colours, as Black, White; from trees and flowers, as Hawthorn, Leaf, Reed, Forest; and others, such as Rich, East, Sharp, Hope, Duke, Stern, Tepid, Money, etc. By the fifth century before Christ, the use of surnames had definitely become established for all classes, whereas in Europe surnames were not known until about the twelfth century after Christ, and even then were confined to persons of wealth and position. There is a small Chinese book, studied by every schoolboy and entitled The Hundred Surnames, the word "hundred" being commonly used in a generally comprehensive sense. It actually contains about four hundred of the names which occur most frequently.

About two hundred and twenty years before Christ, the feudal system came to an end. One aggressive state gradually swallowed up all the others; and under the rule of its sovereign, China became once more an empire, and such it has ever since remained. But although always an empire, the throne, during the past two thousand years, has passed many times from one house to another.

The extraordinary man who led his state to victory over each rival in turn, and ultimately mounted the throne to rule over a united China, finds his best historical counterpart in Napoleon. He called himself the First Emperor, and began by sending an army of 300,000 men to fight against an old and dreaded enemy to the north, recently identified beyond question with the Huns. He dispatched a fleet to search for some mysterious islands off the coast, thought by some to be the islands which form Japan. He built the Great Wall, to a great extent by means of convict labour, malefactors being condemned to long terms of penal servitude on the works. His copper coinage was so uniformly good that the cowry disappeared altogether from commerce during his reign. Above all things he desired to impart a fresh stimulus to literary effort, but he adopted singularly unfortunate means to secure this desirable end; for, listening to the insidious flattery of courtiers, he determined that literature should begin anew with his reign. He therefore determined to destroy all existing books, finally deciding to spare those connected with three important departments of human knowledge: namely, (1) works which taught the people to plough, sow, reap, and provide food for the race; (2) works on the use of drugs and on the healing art; and (3) works on the various methods of foretelling the future which might lead men to act in accordance with, and not in opposition to, the eternal fitness of things as seen in the operations of Nature. Stringent orders were issued accordingly, and many scholars were put to death for concealing books in the hope that the storm would blow over. Numbers of valuable works perished in a vast conflagration of books, and the only wonder is that any were preserved, with the exception of the three classes specified above.

In 210 B.C. the First Emperor died, and his youngest son was placed upon the throne with the title of Second Emperor. The latter began by carrying out the funeral arrangements of his father, as described about a century later by the first and greatest of China's historians:—

"On the 9th moon the First Emperor was buried in Mount Li, which in the early days of his reign he had caused to be tunnelled and prepared with that view. Then, when he had consolidated the empire, he employed his soldiery, to the number of 700,000, to bore down to the Three Springs (that is, until water was reached), and there a firm foundation was laid and the sarcophagus placed thereon. Rare objects and costly jewels were collected from the palaces and from the various officials, and were carried thither and stored in huge quantities. Artificers were ordered to construct mechanical crossbows, which, if any one were to enter, would immediately discharge their arrows. With the aid of quicksilver, rivers were made—the Yangtsze, the Yellow River, and the great ocean—the metal being made to flow from one into the other by machinery. On the roof were delineated the constellations of the sky, on the floor the geographical divisions of the earth. Candles were made from the fat of the man-fish (walrus), calculated to last for a very long time. The Second Emperor said: 'It is not fitting that the concubines of my late father who are without children should leave him now;' and accordingly he ordered them to accompany the dead monarch into the next world, those who thus perished being many in number. When the internment was completed, some one suggested that the workmen who had made the machinery and concealed the treasure knew the great value of the latter, and that the secret would leak out. Therefore, so soon as the ceremony was over, and the path giving access to the sarcophagus had been blocked up at its innermost end, the outside gate at the entrance to this path was let fall, and the mausoleum was effectually closed, so that not one of the workmen escaped. Trees and grass were then planted around, that the spot might look like the rest of the mountain."

The career of the Second Emperor finds an apt parallel in that of Richard Cromwell, except that the former was put to death, after a short and inglorious reign. Then followed a dynasty which has left an indelible mark upon the civilization as well as on the recorded history of China. A peasant, by mere force of character, succeeded after a three-years' struggle in establishing himself upon the throne, 206 B.C., and his posterity, known as the House of Han, ruled over China for four hundred years, accidentally divided into two nearly equal portions by the Christian era, about which date there occurred a temporary usurpation of the throne which for some time threatened the stability of the dynasty in the direct line of succession. To this date, the more northern Chinese have no prouder title than that of a "son of Han."

During the whole period of four hundred years the empire cannot be said to have enjoyed complete tranquillity either at home or abroad. There were constant wars with the Tartar tribes on the north, against whom the Great Wall proved to be a somewhat ineffectual barrier. Also with the Huns, the forbears of the Turks, who once succeeded in shutting up the founder of the dynasty in one of his own cities, from which he only escaped by a stratagem to be related in another connexion. There were in addition wars with Korea, the ultimate conquest of which led to the discovery of Japan, then at a low level of civilization and unable to enter into official relations with China until A.D. 57, when an embassy was sent for the first time. Those who are accustomed to think of the Chinese as an eminently unwarlike nation will perhaps be surprised to hear that before the end of the second century B.C. they had carried their victorious arms far away into Central Asia, annexing even the Pamirs and Kokand to the empire. The wild tribes of modern Yunnan were reduced to subjection, and their territory may further be considered as added from about this period.

At home, the eunuchs gave an immense deal of trouble by their restless spirit of intrigue; besides which, for nearly twenty years the Imperial power was in the hands of a famous usurper, named Wang Mang (pronounced Wahng Mahng), who had secured it by the usual means of treachery and poison, to lose it on the battle-field and himself to perish shortly afterwards in a revolt of his own soldiery. But the most remarkable of all events connected with the Han dynasty was the extended revival of learning and authorship. Texts of the Confucian Canon were rescued from hiding-places in which they had been concealed at the risk of death; editing committees were appointed, and immense efforts were made to repair the mischief sustained by literature at the hands of the First Emperor. The scholars of the day expounded the teachings of Confucius as set forth in these texts; and although their explanations were set aside in the twelfth century, when an entirely new set of interpretations became (and remain) the accepted standard for all students, it is mostly due to those early efforts that the Confucian Canon has exercised such a deep and lasting influence over the minds of the Chinese people. Unfortunately, it soon became the fashion to discover old texts, and many works are now in circulation which have no claim whatever to the antiquity to which they pretend.

During the four hundred years of Han supremacy the march of civilization went steadily forward. Paper and ink were invented, and also the camel's-hair brush, both of which gave a great impetus to the arts of writing and painting, the latter being still in a very elementary stage. The custom of burying slaves with the dead was abolished early in the dynasty. The twenty-seven months of mourning for parents—nominally three years, as is now again the rule—was reduced to a more manageable period of twenty-seven days. Literary degrees were first established, and perpetual hereditary rank was conferred upon the senior descendant of Confucius in the male line, which has continued in unbroken succession down to the present day. The head of the Confucian clan is now a duke, and resides in a palace, taking rank with, if not before, the highest provincial authorities.

The extended military campaigns in Central Asia during this period brought China into touch with Bactria, then an outlying province of ancient Greece. From this last source, the Chinese learnt many things which are now often regarded as of purely native growth. They imported the grape, and made from it a wine which was in use for many centuries, disappearing only about two or three hundred years ago. Formerly dependent on the sun-dial alone, the Chinese now found themselves in possession of the water-clock, specimens of which are still to be seen in full working order, whereby the division of the day into twelve two-hour periods was accurately determined. The calendar was regulated anew, and the science of music was reconstructed; in fact, modern Chinese music may be said to approximate closely to the music of ancient Greece. Because of the difference of scale, Chinese music does not make any appeal to Western ears; at any rate, not in the sense in which it appealed to Confucius, who has left it on record that after listening to a certain melody he was so affected as not to be able to taste meat for three months.

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