Thursday, October 7, 2010

Establishing Empire in China

I. The Origins of Imperial China, 221BCE-220CE

A. Qin Unification of China, 221-206BCE--from the mid-third century BCE,  the Qin began methodically to conquer and incorporate the other Chinese states, and by 221BCE had unified the other Chinese all of northern and central China.

1. Zheng--the Qin ruler when the empire-building was taking place, even though he was only thirteen when he came to the throne.

2.  Legalist advisers--almost all of Zheng's advisers were legalists, as opposed to Confucianists. Confucianists, in fact, were excluded from the advising group, and many were eventually executed. This gave the Qin dynasty a very authoritarian outlook, and led to all power accumulating with the emperor.

3. Undermined aristocratic power--to limit possible threats to the power of the emperor, primogeniture landholding (the eldest son inheriting all of a family's land) was outlawed,  and the family inheritance was required to be divided among all sons. This made it less likely that another aristocratic family would be able to mount a challenge to the emperor.

4. Standardization--the Qin began to standardize many things--precious metals for coins, weights and measures, writing--even the length of axles on carts, so they would all fit in the same ruts in the roads.

5. Securing the border--although farmers and pastoralists traded with one another all along the frontier, there were occasional raids, which the Qin military moved to end. This military action had the effect, however, of uniting these nomadic peoples in opposition to the Qin dynasty.

a. The Xiongnu Confederacy--led initially by Maodun, this confederacy would pose a military threat to China for the next several decades.

6. Shi Huangdi's death--the great elaborate tomb constructed at Shi Huangdi's death tells us much about his regime. The thousands of life-sized terra cotta soldiers and courtier buried with him to serve him in the afterlife hint at the monetary burden this opulent court placed upon its peasant population.

7. Constructing the Great Wall--historians have long thought that the Great Wall was constructed to keep nomadic raiders oout--but recent excavations and documents reveal that its true purpose was to keep people from escaping and taking up a nomadic lifestyle.

8. Fall of the Qin--the emperor following Shi Huangdi proved ineffectual, which set off a dynastic struggle, and led to, after a period of civil war, to the rise of the Han.

B. The Long Reign of the Han, 202BCE--220CE--fighting among rebel groups continued for several years, but in 202BCE Liu Bang inaugurated the Han Dynasty, which ruled China for the next 420 years.

1. Gaozu--the first Han emperor emerged from a modest background. Gaozu courted popular opinion be renouncing many Qin edicts--although in reality, only the more draconian practices were suppressed,  while the power was retained.

2. Han reforms

a. Lowering taxes--because much of the countryside had been devastated by the Qin taxation and the civil war that followed their downfall, the early Han years necessitated lowering taxes and  spending, while at the same time storing surplus grain against the drought and famine sure to come in succeeding years.
b. Restoration of feudal grants--these had been abolished during the Qin regime, but this restoration worked to also restore loyalty to the Han regime, since these grants were given to family members and loyal military allies.
c. Appeasement  of the Xiongnu proved less costly than a state of constant warfare against them--particularly after an embarrassing defeat exposed the weakness of the Han army.

3. Emperor Wu--came to the throne as a teenager, but with the deaths of his grandmother Lü and uncle early in his reign, the way opened for him to rule China for the next 64 years.

a. Sima Qian--the emperor's chief astrologist  was also the chief historian, and it is through his writings that we know so much about the reign of Wu--although his view was undoubtedly colored by  Wu's having him castrated for defending a disgraced general.

b. Military operations--following his grandfather's period of retrenchment, Wu moved militarily into Fijian, Guangdong, and northern Vietnam, as well as the northern provinces of Manchuria and northern Kora. He abandoned the appeasement policy and went to war against the Xiongdu Confederacy, and through a bloody and costly campaign, eventually defeated them--thus diminishing, but not eliminating--the threat they posed.

c. Expansion--besides expanding north and south, Wu expanded his hold on the continent to the west as well,hoping to gain more access to horses for his cavalry. The unexpected benefit of this expansion was laying the foundation for the Silk Road and the lucrative trade with other areas of Asia--and, indirectly, with  Europe.

C. Chinese Society--in the year 2CE, the population of China in the census that year stood at 60 million people, contained in  12 million households.

1. The Family--the fundamental unite of Chinese society was the family, which was composed not only of all living relatives, but all previous generations, as well. The previous generations were the objects of veneration and appeasement, so they would be willing to intercede on behalf of their family.

a. Firm hierarchical structure, with eldest male in the household at the head of the family, and others in the family having clear-cut roles.

2. Women--their lives were bounded by the "3 Submissions"--as a child, they were to submit to their fathers, as wives to their husbands, and as widow, to their eldest son. Only women in royal households were able to retain a somewhat independent status.

3. Chang'an (modern-day Xi'an) in the Wei Valley, served as the capital of the Early, or Western Han. Protected by a wall 10 to 30 feet thick made of pounded earth and brick 15 miles in circumference, Chang'an supported a population of about 246,000 people by 2CE.

4. Scholars,  Merchants, and Soldiers--Scholars shared a common Confucian outlook, and were exempt from taxes  and military service.

a. Scholarly exams--theoretically were open to everyone, and would ensure that only persons of merit would be able to pass the exams; in practice, only the sons of scholars could develop the familiarity necessary to accomplish this.

b. Gentry--lower-level bureaucrats who were scattered throughout the smaller cities and towns who staffed the regional government were also exempt from taxes (that they collected from locals) and military service or labor service. As a result, they led fairly comfortable lives.

c. Merchants--some became quite wealthy, but traditional Chinese society viewed them with suspicion, since they were suspected of driving up the cost of goods for their personal profit, and blamed for the periodic economic ills of the country

d. Soldiers--made up largely of peasants, and were obligated to serve for two years. The usually had to provided  their own food, and spent much of their time engaged in that endeavor, or building forts, frontier posts, and walls--or fighting and dying, on occasion.

D. New Forms of Thought and Belief.

1. History--Sima Qian is the father of Chinese history because he sought to explain the causes of events. Archives has been maintained since at least the Zhou period, and Sima Qian was able to use these documents to construct his history. Because he was employed by the government, however,  he had to obscure his criticism.

2. Religion--as Sima Qian pointed out, emperors in China--like those in Rome--used religion to secure their authority. As early as the first century CE, Buddhism began to trickle into China

3. Technology--interest in astrology spurred astronomical observations, and the development of instruments to further that study. In addition, the development of a horse collar that did not choke the horses allowed them to pull greater loads  than they could in Europe and western Asia.

E. Fall of the Han

1. Wang Mang--although a usurper to the throne, Wang carried out a number of needed reforms. The devastation caused by the flooding of the Yellow River, the refusal of the aristocracy to shoulder part of burden of this atrocity, and a succession of weak rulers all combined to weaken the Han rule.

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