Chinese History

Chinese History

The Creation Story

Pangu Separates Sky from Earth
China has a history longer than that of any other present-day nation,
containing a plethora of myths and legends. Regarded as the "Chinese Adam"
by Westerners, the first figure in China's history was named Pangu.
According to legend, in the beginning, there was only darkness and chaos,
and the sky and earth were one blurred entity. This vast "egg," as the Chinese call it,
was subjected to two opposing forces or principles. The interaction between the two forces
the yin (passive or negative female principle) and yang (active or positive male principle)
gave birth to Pangu, causing the egg's shell to crack.
Pangu has been depicted in many ways. He sometimes appears as a dwarf with two horns on his head,
clothed in skins or leaves, and holding a hammer in one hand and a chisel in the other
or the symbol of the yin and yang . Pang has also been portrayed holding the sun in one hand
and the moon in the other. He is often accompanied by his companions, the four supernatural animals:
the phoenix, dragon, unicorn and tortoise.

The separation of the sky and earth took 18,000 years to complete: the yang, which was light and pure, rose to become the sky; the yin , which was heavy and murky, sank to form the earth. Between the sky and earth was Pangu, who underwent nine changes every day: His wisdom greater than that of the sky and his ability greater than that of the earth. Every day the sky rose ten feet, the earth became ten feet thicker and Pangu grew ten feet taller. Another 18,000 years passed and the sky was very high; the earth, dense and Pangu, extremely tall. His body then dissolved and his head became the mountains; his breath, the wind and clouds; his voice, the thunder; his left eye, the sun and his right eye, the moon. Pangu’s beard became the stars; his four limbs, the four quadrants of the globe; his blood, the rivers and his veins and muscles, the layers of the earth. His flesh became the soil; his skin and hair, the trees and plants; his semen, pearls; his marrow, precious stones and his sweat turned into rain. All in all, Pangu and the universe became one.

The Chinese Romeo and Juliet

Long long ago there was a landlord surnamed Zhu. He had a daughter named Zhu Yingtai who was very beautiful and smart and liked learning very much. However the girl was not permitted to go to school during that old time. So she had to stay at home and looked at the students coming and going on the street through the window everyday. She envied them very much and thought: Why the girl has to stay at home and do the embroidering? Why I can’t go to school?

Suddenly she went back to the room and told her parents with courage:”Dad, Mum, I want to go to Hangzhou to have classes. I can wear man’s garments and act like a man and I will not be recognized .I promise. Please let me go, please! “The old couple didn’t agree at first but had to do so later because Yingtai implored continually.

The next morning, Yingtai and her maid all in man’s suits set out to Hangzhou happily after bidding a farewell to her parents.

At school she met a classmate named Liang Shanbo who was excellent and knowledgeable. They were like old friends just the moment they saw each other for the first sight. The two talked and discussed together a lot from then on. Later, they decided to be sworn brothers and became more intimate than before .

Spring went autumn came. Three years had gone. It was time to say goodbye to her teacher and return home. Zhu Yingtai felt she loved Liang Shanbo very much after three year’s studying together. Liang also hated to see her going home although he didn’t know that she was a girl actually. They missed each other day and night after their parting . Several months’ later, Liang Shanbo went to visit Zhu Yingtai and he found Yingtai a girl with surprise and rejoicing.

Later, Liang Shanbo sent a woman matchmaker to Zhu’s to get the permission of marrying with Yingtai. But the landlord had already accepted the proposal of the young master surnamed Ma, a son of a rich family. Liang Shanbo felt utterly sad and got sick severely. Soon he died.

Yingtai who opposed her father’s decision of marrying her with master Ma became strangely silent when she received the message of her brother Liang’s passing away. She put the red wedding apparel on and went into the bridle sedan. When the party of escorting the bride passed by the tomb of Liang Shanbo. The wind blew hardly out of expectation. The party had to stop for the time being. Yingtai came out from the sedan and put the red wedding attire off and just was in white. She cried loudly and sadly in front of the tomb. A sudden thunder-storm came and the tomb split with loud noise amazingly. Yingtai who loved Liang deeply jumped into the tomb with smile before others could realize it. Then the tomb closed with a loud noise again. The wind ceased and the cloud scattered. Flowers were dancing in the wind.Two beautiful butterflies flying out of the tomb danced elegantly , freely and happily in the sun.

The Great Yu and the terrible Flood

Legend has it that some four or five thousand years ago there occurred once in the Yellow River valley a terrible flood which washed away whole villages with their houses and inundated large areas of cropland. Many people lost their lives in the flood and those who were fortunate enough to survive were forced to abandon their homes and go and live on hillsides or migrate to places far, far away.

At that time, the leader of the confederation of tribes was a man named Yao who at once summoned together the chieftains of all the tribes to discuss how to get the flood under control. At the meeting, a man named Gun was elected by unanimous vote to take charge of the fight against the flood.

Under Gun’s leadership, the people spent nine long years building dams and dykes to stop the flow of the rivers. All the efforts however ended only in more disastrous floods. It happened more than once that no sooner was a dam or dyke built than it was destroyed by flood which carried sands and mud downstream until the mouth of the Yellow River was choked up and the afflicted areas became larger and larger while the number of victims increased.

By this time Yao himself was getting very old and so he yielded his place to one named Shun who attached great importance to flood control and went to the work sites for a personal inspection. When he found that Gun had failed in his mission, he first had him incarcerated on Feather Hill and then killed. After that he gave orders that Gun’s son Yu should carry on the work of fighting the flood.

There have been many mythical stories about Yu’s birth. One is that three years after Gun was killed, his dead body still showed no signs of putrefaction and when someone cut it open, out bounded the boy Yu. Another has it that Yu’s mother gave birth to him after eating a kind of wild fruit. Anyway, in ancient times everyone seemed to believe that Yu was the son of a god, an ingenious, capable and peerless hero.

It was barely four days after he got married when Yu received Shun’s order. Determined to have the flood under control and remove the menace to the people, he left his wife behind and set off for the work site.

Yu first made a study of the causes that had led to his father’s failure. Then he made a careful survey of the afflicted areas and asked for advice from experienced workers. Knowing that water tends to flow from higher to lower regions, he abandoned Gun’s method of building dams and dykes to stop the flow of waters. Instead he led his men in digging ditches and canals to divert the flood and also in dredging the river channels so as to provide outlets for the floods into the sea. In those days there was a high mountain, Mount Longmen, in the upper reaches of the Yellow River that blocked the way of the river. When the turbulent waters reached the mountain, it overflowed the banks, causing floods in the vicinity. In order to cut a canal into the mountain, Yu turned himself into a bear and stole into the mountains to do the digging. He also enlisted the help of Ying Long, Huang Di’s brave warrior. Eventually, he succeeded in cutting a canal through Mount Longmen and thus made it possible for the floods to flow by way of this canal and the dredged rivers into the sea.

Rain or shine, Yu worked in the midst of his men, digging and taking earth away all through the four seasons of a year. His face became sun-burnt and his body spare and thin. Even the hair on his calves was worn away. But he was so dedicated that it was said that he had three times refrained from entering the door of his home when he was passing by. One story has it that he happened to be passing the door when his wife was giving birth to his son Qi. He heard the baby crying, but in order to get the flood under control as early as he could he turned away from his door.

Thus after thirteen long years of continuous efforts, Yu and his men succeeded in dredging all the rivers, big and small, and in doing away with the evil of flood. Those who had gone to live on hillsides or had migrated to remote places now came back to their native places. Under Yu’s leadership, they tilled the land and planted crops and developed agricultural production. As a result, people were beginning to lead a good life.

Yu was held in great reverence by all the tribes who now addressed him as Yu the Great. Shun was convinced that Yu had both fine qualities and great competence and so recommended him as his successor. After the death of Shun, Yu became the head of the tribal confederation. Later his own son Qi set himself as the successor and it was Qi that set up the first slave-owning state in Chinese history – the Xia Dynasty

Shun yield his place to Yu

Qi sets up the first slave state

Yu’s son set up the first dynasty  

The first emperor of China

Ying Zheng, the first emperor that united China over 2000 years ago, declared himself Shi Huangdi, meaning the first emperor. He was called “Qin Shi Huang” by later generations.

More than 2000 years ago, warring states fought with one another in China. Many leuds had the ambition of uniting China, and the one who accomplished the unification was Ying Zheng, the young king from the State of Qin. The reason that Ying Zheng was able to unite China was firstly attributed to the solid foundation laid by his great grandfather Qin Xiaogong. During his reign, Qin Xiaogong appointed reformer Shang Yang to carry out political and economic reforms, which enhanced the national power. After Ying Zheng was enthroned, with the assistance of the statesman Li Si, he implemented the national policy of prosperous country and strong military might, building the state of Qin the greatest power among the warring states. In 221 B. C., after conquering the other six states, Ying Zheng established the Qin Empire, the first feudal autocratic empire of China.

To consolidate the regime and stable the society, Qin Shi Huang established a complete central and local official system. Meanwhile, he unified the country’s legal system and monetary system, and standardized the Chinese characters and weights and measures. All these measures were necessary to stabilize the society and promote the development of economy and cultural exchanges. His great achievements turned a new page in the history of China.

But Qin Shi Huang also did something contrary to the interests of people. For instance, in order to unify the public opinion, he took over and burned all the books from previous regimes that might be against his reign, and killed scholars who opposed him or his ideas, the so-called “fenshu kengru” (burn the books and bury the scholars alive) in history; countless labors were conscripted:['kɔnskript] to guard the border and build the fortification walls to secure the frontier defense; he extorted excessive taxes and levies to construct Epang Palace and his mausoleum[mɔ:sə'li:əm]. Soon people revolted against the reign and the first unified feudal empire went to perdition within 15 years.

Qin Shi Huang died in 210 B.C. and was buried in his mausoleum at the foot of Lishan Mountain, east of the capital Xianyang. After more than two thousand years, in 1987, the mysterious mausoleum of the Emperor was inscribed on the World Heritage List.

Though Qin Shi Huang expected his empire to last forever, Qin Dynasty survived 15 years with two reigns only. However, Qin Shi Huang had the greatest and longest-lasting influence among all rulers in Chinese history.

1.He ordered the unification of Chinese characters, currency, weights and measures, not only benefited economic development and cultural exchanges, but have had a strong and long-lasting influence on China.

2.He was the pioneer in implying legal system in Chinese history.

3.He ordered the construction of road system which eventually played an extremely important role in ancient transportation and economic exchanges.

4.He standardized the length of the axles of carts, so every cart could run smoothly in the ruts of the new roads.

5.He ordered the building and restoration of the Great Wall of China.

Qin Shi Huang as a Tyrant['taiərənt] Ruler – His Brutal Ruling

1.Extremely severe penal codes. For example, if one person was guilty, he would be killed along with his family, his extended family as well as his fellow classmates, villagers, teachers, friends and acquaintances.

2.Burden people with endless demands in wars, building of the Great Wall and building of his Mausoleum, Terra Cotta Army, palaces and roads.

3.Burnt almost all classic books, excluding those of medicine, divination and agriculture.

4.Ordered to bury 460 scholars alive.

5.Confiscated all weapons from the general public.

6.Forced people (especially rich people) to migrate to the newly built capital Xianyang (next to Xian).

1. Construction of the Great Wall

The Great Wall was first built in the Warring States period. At that time the Zhao, Wei, Yan, Qi and Qin states were all engaged in building the Great Wall as fortifications. In order to resist the invasion of the Huns, Emperor Qin Shi Huang connected and further strengthened the walls originally built by Qin, Zhao and Yan States. The Qin Great Wall consists three major parts – the northwest part starts west from Minxian County in Gansu Province to the northwest of Baotou City; the northern part starts from Gaoque to Weixian in Hebei province; the northeast part starts from Weixian in Hebei to Jieshi in Liaodong, totaling more than 5000 km.

2. Mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shi Huang

The Mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shi Huang is the largest existing ancient emperor’s tomb. According to records, the mausoleum, which was started in 247 BC, took nearly 800,000 workers 39 years to finish construction. The number of workers engaged was almost eight times that of the workers during the construction of the pyramid of Khufu. The mausoleum covers an area of 56.25 square kilometers. The architecture within the mausoleum, featuring carved girders and ridgepoles, is grand and awe-inspiring. The inner city around the tomb covers an area of 2.13 square kilometers. And below the 50-meter-deep earth is an underground palace, where Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s coffin was placed.

3. Terracotta Warriors and Horses

Qin Terracotta Army Pits were discovered in 1974 east of the Mausoleum of Emperor Qin. They are a collection of approximately 7000 terracotta figures of warriors and horses, most of which are over 1.75 meters high. The figures included warriors, servants, officials, infantry, shooting soldiers, vehicle soldiers, cavalryman guardians, and horses, etc. It is reputed as the world’s eighth miracle.

The story of Meng Jiangnv

In the Qin Dynasty (221 B.C. – 206 B.C.), a young man named Liang Fanqi escaped from the Great Wall construction site and hid in a private garden where he came across the owner’s pretty daughter, Meng Jiangnü. They fell in love and got married. Unfortunately, Liang Fanqi was found, captured and returned to the construction site.

Meng Jiang Nü waited day and night for her husband. Winter came but Liang Fanqi failed to return. Meng Jiangnü sewed[səu] some warm clothes to take to her husband. She arrived at the construction site, but Liang Fanqi was nowhere to be found. She was then informed that Liang Fanqi had died and his body was built into the Great Wall. Meng Jiangnü stayed by the wall and wept for days and nights. Deeply moved by the girl’s bitter weeping, a 400-kilometer  section of the Great Wall collapsed and exposed the bones and bodies of many dead men. Meng Jiangnü cut her fingers and let her blood drip on the dead bodies until her blood started flowing when she passed over one particular body. Knowing that this was her husband, she buried him and then drowned[draun] herself.

Chinese Philosophy

Confucius- a Great Educator in Chinese History

In the year 551 BC, the famous thinker and educator of ancient China, Confucius, was born at today’s Qufu in Shandong Province, to a family that was far from being well-to-do. But he was an earnest and hard-working pupil even in his childhood. When a young man of a little over twenty, he became a minor official of the state. Since he was very knowledgeable and serious in work, he achieved great distinction in the job and thus became quite well-known by the time he turned thirty. Confucius had been to many of the principalities of the time, advocating his political views and seeking to have his service accepted by the princes in administering their states. But his views and opinions seemed to have fallen on deaf ears and consequently Confucius made up his mind to devote all his energies to education. When people learned about this, many of them sent their children to him to be educated. They were accepted one and all and so Confucius became the first man in the history of Chinese education to start a private school.

There was one young man of humble origin named Yan Hui who wanted to be accepted as Confucius’s student. But the family was so poor that they even had difficulty providing themselves with daily necessaries. He was afraid he would be rejected as he could not afford the tuition required. One day he came to where Confucius was giving lectures. He saw a few men sitting under a big tree and overheard Confucius say, “I’m ready to accept anyone that can bring 10 pieces of preserved meat for tuition, whatever his origin. ” Yan Hui was greatly heartened by this. He hastened back home and told his friends Zi Lu and Zi Gong about it. A few days later, all three became Confucius’s students. Even a man named Gong Yechang who had just been released from prison came under Confucius’s tutelage.

Confucius often lectured to his students on the theme of “benevolence”, preaching the importance of loving others. One day, he and his students happened to be journeying past the foot of the Mount Tai and saw a woman weeping mournfully at the side of a grave. When asked why she was weeping like that, she said to Confucius , still sobbing, “My father-in-law, my husband and my son had all been eaten up by tigers at this place. ” “Why not moving away from here as soon as you can?” asked Confucius. “But the government here is not that tyrannous!” On hearing this, Confucius turned to his students and said, “So you see, a tyrannous government is even more to be feared than fierce tigers, even harsher. ”

Confucius kept a close eye on his student’s attitude towards work. There was one young man, Zai Yu by name, who was not working as hard as the others and often dozed off in class. He was also a boastful type. One day Confucius told his students to do reading. Zai Yu again fell asleep, bending over his desk. Confucius was very angry. He wakened up the young man and chided him sternly, “You’re like a piece of rotten wood and no one can do any carving on a piece of rotten wood. You’re also like a bespattered wall which can never be whitewashed again. ” Zai Yu said in reply, “Master, I’ll never do the same thing again. ” Nodding his head, Confucius rejoined, “It used to be the case that I’d take someone at his words. Now I not only listen to what he pronounces but see what he does in fulfillment of his words. ” Zai Yu was so ashamed that he became wordless, his head drooping.

Once Confucius went on a speaking tour in the state of Wei, accompanied by his students. On the way, they fell to discussing such topics as poetry, ethics, government, etc. The students had a great respect for Confucius’s learning and wanted to know how he did his own studies. To this Confucius responded, “I used to sit alone thinking about this and that. Sometimes I even forgot my meals or bedtime. Still I gained very little. Later I shifted to reading omnivorously, but I did not benefit a great deal either. At long last I came to see that reading in a mechanical way without using my brains was no use. On the other hand, if thinking is divorced from the reality and no due attention is paid to reading, one will continue to feel puzzled by many things. One should constantly review what he has learned and combine reading with thinking. In thus making use of the theories one has learned to guide his thought and help analyze the problems at hand, progress will be achieved. ”

Confucius was a dedicated educator, having accepted a total of 3000 students in his life of whom seventy-two were outstanding scholars. Through educational work, Confucius succeeded in propagating his political views. Eventually he and his students e-merged as an independent school of thought, the Confucius School which exerted a tremendous impact on feudalist China which lasted thousands of years.

Confucius lived until he was seventy-three and his death was deeply mourned by his students. Some of them stayed for as long as three years by the side of his grave and Zi Lu topped all by staying there alone for another three years. In order not to forget his teachings, Confucius’s students wrote down all his dialogues with them. Later they set about collecting and editing what Confucius had said on other questions and how he had dealt with various problems and situations. All this was written into a classic of the Confucian School – 《lun yu 》         (《 The Confucian Analects》).

Some well known Confucian quotes:

“To know your faults and be able to change is the greatest virtue.”

知錯能改,善莫大焉

“What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others.”

己所不欲,勿施於人。

“Knowledge is recognizing what you know and what you don’t.”

知之為知之,不知為不知,是知也.

“Reviewing the day’s lessons. Isn’t it joyful? Friends come from far. Isn’t it delightful? One has never been angry at other’s misunderstanding. Isn’t he a respectable man?”

學而時習之,不亦說乎?有朋自遠方來,不亦樂乎?人不知而不慍,不亦君子乎?

1.A Recollection of the Splendar of the Tang Dynasty

THE Tang Dynasty (618-907), covering a period of 289 years, was not long in relation to China’s 5,000-year civilization. It is nonetheless considered to be the greatest dynasty of ancient China. During its zenith of 140 years (618-765), the Tang Dynasty not only ushered into China a period of unprecedented development and prosperity, but also contributed to the development and progress of humankind as a whole.

The Chinese people are particularly proud of their two most resplendent dynastic periods — the Han and the Tang — considering them to be symbolic of China and the Chinese nation. Countless Chinese people, whether living in China or overseas, still refer to themselves as “Hanren” (Han person/people) or “Tangren” (Tang person/people). In European and American countries, the numerous Chinese communities, or “China Towns” are known as “Tangren Jie,” meaning the neighborhood, or street, inhabited by the Tang people.

Li Shimin: A Peerless Emperor

For the thousands of years prior to the downfall of the last emperor of the Qing Dynasty in 1911, the rulers of slave and feudal societies in China had exercised absolute autocracy, wherein a single person had supreme power over the law and the nation. This supreme figure was thus arbiter of the course of the historic development, and therefore the fate of the country, as well as the wellbeing of its population. For thousands of years, ruthless and tyrannical rulers inflicted misery and disaster upon the Chinese nation, and one who was competent and humane was both longed for and cherished by the ordinary people as an embodiment of their hope for the future.

Li Shimin, a preeminent emperor in Chinese history, was born in 598. His father and grandfather had both been high-ranking officials during the Sui Dynasty (581-618). Li’s childhood was during a period of turmoil. In 605, when Li was 7, Yang Guang, the second emperor of the Sui Dynasty, ascended the throne. This emperor soon became notorious for his debauched lifestyle and cruelty. He squandered the state treasury on lavish imperial buildings, and forced countless people into corvee labor, all of which eventually led to a peasant uprising in 611.

This uprising signaled rebellion and mutiny throughout China. Li Shimin consequently grew up amidst political turbulence and clique intrigue. In 615, at the age of 17, he urged his father, Li Yuan, then a military commander stationed in Taiyuan, to go with the flow of this historic climax and rise against the Sui emperor. Three years later, Li Yuan became the first emperor of the Tang Dynasty.

Stability and solidarity were the top priorities of this new dynasty, and Li Shimin was obviously endowed with both military and political ingenuity. In the course of helping his father stabilize the nation Li Shimin established a strong military force, as well as a large think-tank of expertise in different fields. In 626, at the age of 28, he succeeded his father as emperor.

hanged the title of his reign to Zhenguan and retained the throne for 23 years. He brought about a new era that laid foundations for the great prosperity, development and progress with which the Tang Dynasty became associated in later years. The period of his rule, known as the “Zhenguan Governance,” is acknowledged as a milestone in Chinese history. This reign has rich connotations, being regarded by historians and politicians alike as the model for successful government, while to ordinary people it is synonymous with a happy life.

An Unsinkable “Boat”
China had been a feudal society for more than 1,000 years prior to Li Shimin’s ascent to the throne. There was, therefore, a sizable accumulation of experience in state administration that had been valued by monarchs of the dynasties preceding the Tang. Li Shimin was also highly appreciative of this wisdom gained from past experience, but the “Zhenguan Governance” of his creation was imbued with an excellence that set it apart from previous governments.

The most important difference in Li Shimin’s approach was that he did not regard the emperor as the “son of God,” believing that the stability of an imperial rule was dependant upon the support of the masses. He said, “The monarch is a boat and his subjects are the water. Water carries the boat, but can also capsize it.” He held that the monarch’s representation of, and care for the interests of, the masses was the essence of governance. His theories were reflected in the daily administration of his reign.

After ascending the throne, and remembering well the mistakes that had led to the downfall of the Sui Dynasty, Li Shimin implemented a series of policies that were in the interests of the masses. These included a ban on extravagance, encouragement of frugality, reduction of taxes and corvee labor, construction of water conservancy projects, support of agriculture, and encouragement of a population increase. The emperor did not, however, have heaven’s blessing. During the second year of Zhenguan, China suffered a severe drought, followed by plagues of locusts and subsequent famine. Countless people had no choice but to leave their homes and sell their children. Li Shimin thereupon promulgated a decree whereby children sold could be redeemed by gold and silk issued by the imperial government, and returned to their parents. On one occasion, when visiting an area particularly seriously hit by locusts, he picked up a locust and, before eating it, said, “I’d rather it ate my innards.” In the ninth month of that year, he set an example of frugality by dismissing 3,000 maids of honor from the court. The following year, however, China was once more deluged. Li Shimin was seen to have had no power over nature, but his example and identification with the masses was all that the ordinary Chinese could ask. It is recorded in historical documents: “Due to the dedicated efforts and care on the part of the government, the people had no cause to complain, even though they had to find their food where they could. That year (the fourth year of Zhenguan) yielded an abundant harvest, and those who had fled from famine returned home. A dou (1 decaliter) of rice cost no more than three or four cash.” In many places people “did not lock their doors, and when traveling, took no food with them, instead buying it along the way.”

Li Shimin not only set a good example, but was also very strict with local leaders and administrators. He kept a close eye on their performance, making personal inspections, and sending people to “supervise local governments, punishing those negligent and promoting the competent, to the great satisfaction of the people.”

A Wise Monarch and Honest Officials

Li Shimin’s wisdom was reflected in dealings with his own staff. Honesty and competence were his top criteria for any official, with no preference based on social or ethnic status. Wei Zheng, the best-known government advisor of the Tang Dynasty, had formerly served Li’s brother, Li Jiancheng, an arch-rival for imperial power. Wei was captured after Li Jiancheng’s defeat and death. Li Shimin was well aware of Wei’s skill as consultant, and asked him why he had advised Li Jiancheng to do away with all dissidents, including Li Shimin himself, thus instigating enmity between the two brothers. Wei answered that had Li Jiancheng followed his advice, he would not have been defeated. Li Shimin appreciated Wei’s talent and honesty, and offered him a key governmental position.

Wei was gratified at the emperor’s understanding and trust, and during his time in office wrote over 200 reports, giving advice on administration, at the same time urging the emperor to solicit opinions from other sources. The emperor was very much in tune with Wei’s concept of a benevolent government, and totally agreed with his view that, “The monarch is enlightened when he listens to all opinions, and benighted when he is biased” which has since become a well-known Chinese proverb.

Wei Zheng and Li Shimin did, however, also have their differences. On one occasion the two quarreled during an imperial audience. On his return to the inner court, the emperor said angrily that Wei Zheng was too willful, and that one day he would execute him. The empress Zhangsun congratulated him, saying that it was only when the emperor was wise that his ministers were upright enough to speak their minds. The emperor immediately calmed down.

Li Shimin loved to hunt, but Wei Zheng believed that the emperor should exercise restraint, so as not to become obsessed. It is recorded that in the 10th month of the second year of Zhenguan, Li Shimin “wished to go to Nanshan Mountain on a hunting trip, but desisted from telling Wei Zheng for fear he would criticize him. After perching a snipe on his shoulder he saw Wei Zheng approaching, upon which the emperor hid the bird beneath his robes. Wei talked with the emperor at such length that the bird died.” There were few other emperors who, like Li Shimin, accepted so earnestly the supervision of their ministers.

Li Shimin opened a channel for officials to offer straightforward advice, but also warned them against slandering others, as this would be treated as a crime and severely punished. In 643, Wei Zheng died, and Li Shimin sorely mourned his loss. At this time of grief he thus addressed an audience: “Copper can serve as a mirror for us to see that we are properly dressed; the past can serve as a mirror so that we know what is good; and a person can serve as a mirror so that we may know our losses and gains. I have always kept all three of these mirrors, but today Wei Zheng has died, and one of my mirrors is lost. ”

One Family Within the Four Seas

Another area in which Li Shimin excelled was that of dealing with ethnic and foreign affairs. He broke away from conventions of discrimination between that Chinese and that foreign. He stated, “There has since ancient times been a biased belief that the Chinese race is superior, and all others inferior. I love them all as one.” The Tang Dynasty’s economic strength enabled it to open its door with confidence to foreign people, commodities, ideology, culture and lifestyles. This extensive absorption and integration created a dynasty that was not only of China but also of the whole world.

Ever since his enthronement, Li Shimin had been aware of the great importance of the Silk Road, and during the recovery period of the early Tang Dynasty, launched several military expeditions to restore peace in frontier regions and along the Silk Road. A more congenial environment was thus created for the people of various ethnic groups living on the frontier, and a smooth passage was guaranteed along this Eurasian passageway.

Apart from the Silk Road, seven other overland and marine routes leading to various countries existed during the Tang Dynasty. In the fourth year of Zhenguan, Li Shimin issued a decree allowing merchants to travel and trade freely with frontier inhabitants. He later issued more ordinances with the aim of protecting the safety of merchants and encouraging trade between China and other countries, and also promulgated a series of preferential policies, including the reduction of tariffs and provision of free firewood to travelling merchants.

The Tang Dynasty became the center of world attention for its economic prosperity, material wealth, enlightened politics, social stability, advanced science, and brilliant culture and arts. Huge numbers of foreigners and people of ethnic minorities came to the dynastic capital of Chang’an. A census taken during the third year of Zhenguan showed that the population in Chang’an was one million, and included over 100,000 foreigners and people of ethnic minorities. In the fourth year of Zhenguan, the Tujue (Turkic) tribes fragmented, and after Li Shimin’s acceptance of them, hundreds of thousands of Tujue people found shelter under Tang rule. The emperor arranged for all chieftains to become officials in Chang’an, and to serve in various departments of the imperial government. At this time, the imperial court had over 200 officials, almost half of which were foreigners or from ethnic minorities. Foreign culture, arts and lifestyle thus blended into the daily lives of the local people.

During the Tang Dynasty, anything foreign or alien was labeled “hu.” For a time during the Tang Dynasty a “hu” vogue spread throughout China and remained dominant for a lengthy period of time. Like their emperor, the common people of the Tang Dynasty accepted foreigners readily and hospitably, and absorbed the associated accoutrements that they loved or found useful. This integration of things both Chinese and foreign greatly propelled social progress and the development of the Tang Dynasty.

The capital city of Chang’an was a genuine cosmopolis where foreigners were everywhere, from the imperial palace to common streets and alleys, and even among the emperor’s guards. Shops and restaurants owned by “Hu” people could be seen throughout Chang’an.

Foreign culture also made a great contribution to the cultural splendor of the Tang Dynasty, particularly within the performing arts. In the early Tang Dynasty, there were 10 musical and dance programs, seven of which were from the Western Regions and abroad. The Hu Swirling Dance was the best known of all, and indispensable to any program of entertainment. The dance was performed, either as a solo or duet, on a small round carpet. The dancer or dancers swirled and spun dazzlingly, their dresses flying out in a manner that made them resemble a spinning top. Bai Juyi, a great poet of the Tang Dynasty, described the speed of this dance as faster than that of a spinning wheel.

In the early Tang Dynasty, the Chinese population was less than 18 million. A hundred years later, in 755, the population had reached 52.92 million. In ancient feudal society, the rate of population increase was an important indicator of the economic strength and social progress of a country. This 100-year period later became known as the Tang of Great Prosperity.

By staff reporter HUO JIANYING November 2001 China Today

2.A Women of the Tang Dynasty

DURING China’s feudal epoch, society was male-centered. There was consequently a pervasive belief in man’s superiority over woman that continued as the ruling ideology throughout feudal society. Women were thus regarded as little more than bond servants in feudal China.

At this time, male dominance was guaranteed and maintained by certain norms. The three cardinal guides (ruler guides subject, father guides son, and husband guides wife) and the five constant virtues (benevolence, righteousness, propriety, wisdom and sincerity) defined social behavior, and the three obediences (in ancient China a woman was required to obey her father before marriage, her husband during marriage, and her sons in widowhood) and four virtues (women’s fidelity, physical charm, propriety in speech and proficiency at needle work) guided the family order.

In feudal China, women had no say at all as regards their marriage partner, being expected to comply unconditionally with their parents or brothers’ arrangements. Women had neither the right to divorce their husbands, nor to remarry. Whether or not a woman outlived her husband, she was permitted to marry only once in her lifetime. On the other hand, a husband could lawfully abandon his wife if she committed one of the seven sins: being unfilial, barren, lascivious, jealous, succumbed to a repellent disease, meddling, or stealing.

Having such a low social and familial status, women could not even dream of filling a place within the political and economic realm.

Lucky Ladies of the Tang Dynasty

Women of the Tang Dynasty were fortunate to live at a time characterized by open-mindedness and liberal ideas.

According to the Tang Code, a couple wishing to divorce on the basis of mutual consent and a peaceful process were not to be punished. This signifies that the law protected people’s right to divorce through consultation. Historical records show that it was not unusual for women to divorce or remarry at this time. As a contrast to the prevailing attitude of other feudal dynasties, a widow was not considered to be “unchaste” if she remarried. A Tang Dynasty divorce agreement, unearthed from Dunhuang, reads: “Since we cannot live together harmoniously, we had better separate. I hope that after the divorce, niangzi (a form of address for one’s wife) can be as young and beautiful as before, and may you find a more satisfactory husband. I hope that the divorce will not plant hatred between us in the future.” This divorce agreement reflects not only the Tang women’s equality within marriage but also the general open-mindedness of the Tang people.

Women of the royal family were not subject to marital restrictions or constraints either. From the reign of Emperor Gaozong to that of Emperor Suzong during the early and middle Tang Dynasty, there were altogether 98 princesses, of which 61 married, among whom 24 remarried, and four married three times. This trend shook the very foundations of traditional feudal ethics.

During the Tang Dynasty, it was common for the Han to intermarry with other ethnic groups or foreigners, and there was a law protecting Sino-foreign intermarriage. According to historical records: “Many huren (people of non-Han origin) who had lived in Chang’an for a long time married Han women and produced children.” “Huren intermarry with the Han people, and now many youngsters in Chang’an are of mixed blood.” Female members of the royal family were also married to other nationalities. Seven of Emperor Gaozu’s 19 daughters were married to men of other nationalities, and eight of Emperor Taizong’s 21 daughters took foreign husbands. In the 15th year (641) of the Zhenguan era, Princess Wencheng was married to the king of Tubo. She brought many advanced production techniques to Tubo, making a great contribution to the friendship and cultural exchanges between the Han and Tibetan people.

The Tang Dynasty attached great importance to education, and Tang women were granted the same rights to, and opportunities for, education as men. This splendid dynasty is probably most celebrated for its wealth of great poets. The Complete Poetry of the Tang contains over 50,000 poems written by more than 2,000 poets, of whom at least 20 were influential figures in the history of Chinese literature. There were also many famous poetesses, of whom Shangguan Wan’er is representative. Shangguan’s poems were in a style of all her own — the Shangguan style, which provided much inspiration for Li Bai, the most famous of all ancient Chinese poets. In the Tang Dynasty, writing poetry was not merely the privilege pursuit of noblewomen but was also practiced by those of common origins.

Tang women also had the chance to learn history, politics, and military skills. At the founding of this dynasty, Princess Pingyang personally participated in battles, having led a detachment of women to help her father, Emperor Gaozu. Princess Taiping, daughter of Emperor Gaozong, twice suppressed mutinies inside the imperial court at critical times.

Living within a relaxed social environment, and having an independent social status, the behavior of well-educated Tang women was obviously quite different from that of the women of former dynasties. They could drink wine to the limit of their capacity, and sing loudly in taverns; gallop through the suburbs with abandon; or even compete with men on the polo field. In the Tang Dynasty, women conducted social activities and carried on business independently. They even distinguished themselves within the political arena, a prime example being Empress Zhangsun — the most virtuous empress in China.

Empress Wu Zetian

The ultimate Tang Dynasty woman was undoubtedly Wu Zetian. There were altogether 243 emperors during the 2,000 years from the beginning of the Qin Dynasty (221 BC) to the end of the Qing Dynasty (1911), and Wu Zetian was the only female monarch among them. Wu Zetian was the most legendary and controversial figure in Chinese history. She lived to be 82, and held power for 50 years.

Wu Zetian was born into an official’s family in Wenshui, Shanxi Province. She was not only beautiful but also very intelligent. Although bestowed with strong female charm and grace, Wu Zetian was firm and unyielding in all her dealings. She entered the palace at the age of 14 and was assigned to wait upon Emperor Taizong, who gave her the name Mei, meaning charming and lovely, in acknowledgement of her beauty. But she did not like this name. After taking over power, she changed her name to Zhao (meaning the light of the sun and the moon illuminating every corner of the land). Wu Zetian was an uncompromising woman. At one time there was a wild and savage horse in the palace stables that no one could tame. Wu Zetian said that the way to deal with it was first to beat it with an iron whip, and if that did not work, to kill it. Wu Zetian was initially conferred the title of cairen (concubine of medium rank), but was unable to win much favor with Emperor Taizong. She worked as his secretary for 12 years, but she was neither promoted nor able to give birth to his child. Emperor Taizong’s son, Li Zhi, however, was deeply infatuated with her. After the death of Taizong, Li Zhi was enthroned and Wu Zetian became empress. The emperor and empress ruled the country jointly. Since Li Zhi had delicate health, Wu Zetian was the actual ruler of the country. When Li Zhi died, Wu Zetian managed to stabilize the political situation based on her abundant experience of political intrigue. In 690, Wu Zetian ascended the throne and changed the title of the dynasty to Zhou. She disposed of all her political enemies and established the Wu family court. As monarch, she was a hardworking, sagacious and caring ruler. During Wu Zetian’s reign, the country maintained its prosperity and the people lived in peace. The tribes who lived at the time of the newly established Zhou Dynasty all pledged allegiance to the empress.

Having worked as Emperor Taizong’s secretary for 12 years, Wu Zetian was very familiar with the former emperor’s main priorities in his management of state affairs, many of which she followed, for example, his stress on agriculture, reducing tax and corvee, practicing a peaceful foreign policy, and widely soliciting advice and suggestions.

The empress took great care to select talented people and put them in important positions. She also encouraged and supported female participation in politics. Shangguan Wan’er is a perfect example. Both her grandfather and father had been killed for opposing Wu Zetian’s accession to power, and the young Wan’er and her mother were employed as maidservants at the palace where Wan’er received a very good education. She not only wrote beautiful poetry, but also gained an intimate knowledge of state affairs. Wu Zetian greatly appreciated her ability, and appointed Wan’er as her personal aide. Shangguan Wan’er proved her worth to the empress, not only through her ability to participate in the decision-making required by the memorials to the throne, but also by drafting imperial edicts for the empress. Shangguan once even acted as chief examiner of the final imperial examination. After Wu Zetian died, Shangguan Wan’er remained at court to assist Emperor Zhongzong in governing the country.

Wu Zetian was very tolerant of different opinions emanating from her subordinates. Xu Yougong was the official in charge of the judiciary, but would often confront the empress with his dissatisfaction at some of the court verdicts. On one occasion, Wu Zetian became so incensed that she issued an order to behead Xu, but just as the execution was about to start, she pardoned him, instead demoting him to a commoner. When her anger had abated, she continued to solicit Xu’s opinion, and reinstated him as head of the judiciary. In conclusion, Wu Zetian was an empress of status, power, and outstanding achievement.

Merits or Demerits, History Has the Verdict

In order to maintain social stability, just before her death Wu Zetian decided to return state power to the Tang Dynasty. However, the shock waves caused by her behavior have never subsided. Even today, there are still opposing opinions as regards her conduct and her personality. No matter whether the epithet “iron hand empress” is complimentary or pejorative, no one can deny the history she created. During Wu Zetian’s reign, the achievements of her predecessors were carried forward and further developed, eventually bringing the Tang Dynasty to the peak of its Kaiyuan splendor. Within the Tang Dynasty’s centuries-long prosperity, 50 years can be accredited to Wu Zetian. It was the Tang Dynasty that created Empress Wu Zetian, and this indomitable woman reciprocated by devoting her life and energies to her people.

Wu Zetian left orders that upon her death a tablet should be erected in front of the tomb in which she and Emperor Gaozong were buried, but that this tablet be left blank. In Wu Zetian’s view, the merits and demerits of her life were subject to the evaluation of history alone. As empress she enjoyed emperor status and the people’s support, but as a woman she had sacrificed almost everything — relatives, friends, love, and ultimately, her life. How could a few words inscribed on a tablet hope to reflect the joys and woes of her life and the fickleness of the world she inhabited?

As well as being an outstanding politician, Wu Zetian was also a great poetess and calligrapher. Versatile as she was, however, her passing nevertheless filled her subjects with a sense of desolation.

Four Beauties
The Four Beauties are four ancient Chinese women, renowned for their beauty. Though actual historical figures, their stories have been greatly embellished by legend.
According to legend, they are the most beautiful women of ancient China, and among the most significant as well. They have remained famous because of their effect on the emperors and kings with whom they were involved. Some brought kingdoms or dynasties to their knees. Most ended their lives in tragedy or mystery.
They are, in chronological order:
Xi Shi  (c. seventh to sixth century BC, Spring and Autumn Period), said to be "so beautiful as to make swimming fish sink"
Wang Zhaojun  (c. first century BC, Western Han Dynasty), said to be "so beautiful as to make flying geese fall"
Diao Chan  (c. third century, Three Kingdoms period), said to have "a face that would make the full moon hide behind the clouds"
Yang Guifei  (719-756, Tang Dynasty), said to have "a face that would make all flowers feel shameful"
Shi Xi,she was married to their enemy Chai Fu,the king of Wu,and she destroy her hunsber's country
Zhaojun Wang,she was married to their enemy to stop the war.
Chan diao,she marry to their enemy Zhuo Dong,she make out Zhuo Dong's slave Bu lv,and rouse him against  Zhuo Dong,at last,Bu lv killed his master Zhuo Dong,and marry with Chan diao

Yuhuan yang,she marry to her father-in-law Tang Ming Huang,she’s fat,and she’s smell,at last,her father-in-law Tang Ming Huang killed her in MaZai hill.

The four great inventions of China

Papermaking, gunpowder, printing and the compass are four ancient inventions by Chinese people that have had a huge impact on the entire world.

Paper Making
The invention of paper greatly contributed to the spread and development of civilization. Before the invention of paper, bones, tortoise shells, and bamboo slips were all used as writing surfaces, but as Chinese civilization developed they proved themselves unsuitable because of their bulk and weight. Hemp fiber and silk were used to make paper but the quality was far from satisfactory. Besides, these two materials could be better used for other purposes so it was not practical to make paper from them.

Xue fu wu che is a Chinese idiom describing a learned man. The story behind it concerns a scholar named Hui Shi who lived during the Warring States Period. He needed five carts to carry his books when he traveled around teaching. Books at that time were made of wood or bamboo slips so they were heavy and occupied a lot of space. Reading at the time needed not only brainwork but also physical strength.

In 105 A.D. Cai Lun, a eunuch during the Eastern Han Dynasty, invented paper from worn fishnet, bark and cloth. These raw materials could be easily found at a much lower cost so large quantities of paper could be produced.

The technique of paper making was exported to Korea in 384 A.D. A Korean Monk then took this skill with him to Japan in 610 A.D.

During a war between the Tang Dynasty and the Arab Empire, the Arabs captured some Tang soldiers and paper making workers. Thus, a paper factory was set up by the Arabs.

In the 11th Century the skill was carried to India when Chinese monks journeyed there in search of Buddhist sutras.

Through the Arabs, Africans and Europeans then mastered the skill. The first paper factory in Europe was set up in Spain. In the latter half of the 16th century, this skill was brought to America. By the 19th century, when paper factories were set up in Australia, paper making had spread to the whole world.

Cai Lun, also known as Tsai Lun, was listed in the book The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History by Michael H. Hart.

Gunpowder
In Chinese, gunpowder is called huo yao, meaning flaming medicine. Unlike paper and printing, the birth of gunpowder was quite accidental. It was first invented inadvertently by alchemists while attempting to make an elixir of immorality. It was a mixture of sulphur, saltpeter, and charcoal. At the end of the Tang Dynasty, gunpowder was being used in military affairs. During the Song and Yuan Dynasties, frequent wars spurred the development of cannons, and fire-arrows shot from bamboo tubes.

In the 12th and 13th centuries, gunpowder spread to the Arab countries, then Greece, other European countries, and finally all over the world.

Gunpower
Along with the silk and paper, gunpowder is another invention by Chinese and the Silk Road helped it spread to the west. The dating of gunpowder is as early as 850 A.D. This invention seems to have been discovered in China by accident – by alchemists seeking the elixir of immortality. This earliest account reported the experiment: “some have heated together the saltpeter, sulfure and carbon of charcoal with honey; smoke and flames result, so that their hands and faces have been burnt, and even the whole house burnt down.”

The gunpowder used for military purpose was first recorded in 919 A.D. By the 11th century, explosive bombs filled with gunpowder and fired from catapults were introduced and used in China. The words “fire cannon”, “rocket”, “missile” and “fireball” appeared time and again in the official Song history as well as two other books written during the same period. The first detailed description of using “firing cannon” in warfare was in connection with a battle fought in 1126 when the Song army used it against the invading Nuchens. The so-called fire cannon was a tube made oif bamboo filled with gunpowder which, when fired, threw a flaming missile towards the enemy. Since the barrel was made of bamboo, the f lying missile could not cover a long distance. According to a description of a battle scene in 1132, it took two persons to carry a “fire cannon”, and the cannons were fired from a moving platform after it had been moved close to the wall of the besieged city.

The Chinese invention of gunpowder never went much beyond its crudest form, and it was abandoned as a military weapon shortly afterwards. It reached Japan, Islam and then Europe in the 13th century and the Arabs improved gunpowder for military use. In 1280, the Syrian al-Hasan ar-Rammah wrote the Book of Fighting on Horseback and with War Engines. Herein introduced a rocket device, which he called “Chinese arrow.” The early account of gunpowder in Europe was recorded by English philosopher Roger Bacon in the 13th century. One century later the Arabs used it to attack the Spanish town Baza and the very next year in 1326 Florence ordered the manufacturing of cannon and cannon balls. From Italy the making of gunpowder soon spread to other European countries, and by the 1350s it had become an effective weapon on the battlefield.

Printing Technique
Inspired by engraved name seals, Chinese people invented fixed-type engraved printing around 600 A.D. The skill played an important role in the Song Dynasty but its shortcomings were apparent. It was time-consuming to engrave a model, not easy to store, and not easy to revise errors.

During the reign of Emperor Ren Zong of the Northern Song Dynasty, Bi Sheng invented moveable, reusable clay type after numerous tests. Single types were made and picked out for printing certain books. These types could be used again and again for different books. Because of the large number of different characters in the Chinese written language, this technique did not have a dramatic impact at the time. However, today, this typesetting technique is regarded as a revolution in the industry. About 200 years later, this moveable-type technique spread to other countries and advanced the development of world civilization.

Compass
During the Warring States period, a device called a Si Nan became the forerunner of the compass. A Si Nan was a ladle-like magnet on a plate with the handle of the ladle pointing to the south. In the 11th century, tiny needles made of magnetized steel were invented. One end of the needle points north while the other points south. The compass was thus created. The compass greatly improved a ship’s ability to navigate over long distances. It was not until the beginning of the 14th century that compass was introduced to Europe from China.

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