Thursday, November 08, 2007

Comparison of Zhou and Chin Dynasties

Wu Pei was a general of Liu An, Prince of Huainan during the Han Dynasty. Liu An consulted him for advice to overthrow the emperor. Wu Pei gave this brief comparison between the Zhou and Chin dynasties to Liu An to persuade the prince not to plan revolt:

“Let me offer your Highness some advice.

I have heard that a man with good ears can hear what has not yet made a sound, a man with good eyes can see what has not yet taken form. That is why a sage succeeds in all he does. King Wen of old made but one move, yet he has been honoured for a thousand generations as the founder of one of the three great dynasties. For he carried out the will of Heaven and all men followed him of their own accord.

This is a case from a thousand years ago, whereas the Chin Dynasty of a hundred years ago and Wu and Chu in recent times are examples of how kingdoms fall. I am not afraid to share the fate of Wu Tzu-hsu, but I hope your Highness will not listen to wrong advice like the king of Wu.

Chin abandoned the ways of the former kings, killed scholars, burnt the ancient songs and documents, gave up ceremony and justice, advocated treachery and force, relied on punishments and shipped grain from the coast to Hsiho. In those days, although men wore themselves out in the fields, they had not even enough chaff or husks to eat. Although women wove and spun, they had not clothes enough to cover themselves.

The emperor sent Meng Tien to build the Great Wall extending thousands of li from east to west. He kept hundreds of thousands of troops deployed in the field, and the dead were past counting. Corpses lay strewn for a thousand li, hundreds of mou flowed with blood, and the people were so exhausted that five households out of ten longed to revolt.

Then Hsu Fu was sent out to sea in search of supernatural beings (ShenXian), and on his return he lied to the emperor, saying, ‘I have seen the great god of the ocean, who asked whether I was the envoy from the Emperor of the West. When I signified that I was, he asked me my business. I told him I was looking for an elixir to prolong life. He replied that since the king of Chin’s gifts were so poor, I could see what I wished but might take nothing away. Then he let me go southeast to Mount Penglai, where I saw palaces built of sacred fungus. There was a god the colour of bronze and shaped like a dragon, whose light blazed up to illuminate the sky. I bowed and asked what presents I should bring, and the god replied that the elixir could be had by anyone who brought young boys and girls and crafts of every kind.’

The First Emperor of Chin (Chin Shi Huangdi) in high delight sent him back with three thousand boys and girls, the five types of grain and a hundred different craftsmen. But when Hsu Fu reached a plain with a broad expanse of water, he set himself up as king there and never returned. Then the people grieved over their bitter loss, and six households out of ten longed to revolt.

Then the emperor dispatched Chao To south across the mountains to attack the Yueh tribes. Knowing that the people were at the end of their tether, Chao To set himself up as king there and did not go back but sent to ask for thirty thousand unmarried women to mend his troops’ uniforms and the emperor sent him fifteen thousand women. That was when the people became further demoralized and seven households out of ten wanted to revolt.

In time past the emperor of Chin defied what was right, oppressing and injuring the people. He had a retinue of ten thousand carriages, built Apang Palace, took away over half his subjects’ income in taxes, and conscripted those who should have been exempt from service. Fathers were unable to support their sons, elder brothers to help their younger brothers. Harsh administration and cruel punishments made the whole country groan in distress. The people craned their necks to look for salvation and inclined their ears to listen, crying out to Heaven and beating their breasts in hatred of the emperor. That is why the whole empire responded to Chen Sheh’s call.

Now our emperor rules over a united empire, his love extends to all, his virtue and liberality are manifest. His lips do not move, yet his voice travels with the speed of a thunderbolt. He issues no order, yet his influence spreads like magic. When he wishes for something, his might is felt ten thousand li away and his subjects respond like a shadow or an echo. Furthermore, Grand Marshal Wei Ching is abler than either Chang Han or Yang Hsiung. And so I think your Highness is mistaken to compare yourself with Chen Sheh and Wu Kuang.”

[Records of the Historian – HY and Gladys Yang]

Many lessons can be learned from this brief by Wu Pei.

The most basic of all is not to believe historians who still think that Chin Shi Huangdi was a great emperor. Either these historians did not do enough homework (research) to teach ancient Chinese history or are biased. Since some of them read the Records of the Historian – Shiji - too.

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