Non-Autocracy in Pre-Qin China


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Журнал: Volume 7, Number 1 / March 2008 - подписаться на статьи журнала

It is thirty years ago that Anatoly Khazanov discussed forms of political organizations of early states in The Early State (Khazanov 1978: 87–89). He doubted whether the fairly popular belief that despotism was the most widespread form of political organization in early states, as assumed by Wittfogel (1957), was dependable. He said that there was no direct connection between early states and despotism, and therefore the assumption that despotism was the first and earliest form of state power was questionable. In his view, there were many early states whose governments could not be classified as despotic ones. The examples he gave were of the states founded by pastoral nomads, Sumerians, ancient and medieval Western Europeans. Basically, I agree with him. In fact, non-despotic political organization is found not only in the early states of pastoral nomads, Sumerians, and ancient and medieval Western Europeans. In my view, democratic, or at least non-despotic government was the most widespread form of early state power in the world. For example, among the first early states in the archaic civilizations in Africa and Asia, non-despotic governments were found almost everywhere but Egypt. The same holds for India and China, the two areas that Marx and Wittfogel took as the typical hosts of oriental despotism (Marx 1995[1853]; Wittfogel 1957). That is to say, there might be a direct connection between early states and non-autocracy. The reason is that most of the early states were small with limited territory and population. In my studies, I find that non-despotic organization did evolve almost in all small polities in ancient world history, including early states and mature states, if only they were independent from the influence of the big despotic states, provided there were such states, and existed for a long enough period of time. In ancient world history only big countries had a stable structure of despotism. A small independent country might also develop an autocratic state power. However, it was very difficult for it to last long, just as the Greek tyrannies did (Yi Jianping 1998a, 1998b, 1998c, 2004a, 2004b, 2006; cf. van der Vliet, this volume).

To come back to our topic, in Chinese academic circles it is also widely believed that since the Xia Dynasty (ca. 21st – ca. 16th century B.C.), that is, since the first Chinese early state emerged, the political organizations in the whole ancient Chinese history (ca. 21st century B.C. – 1840 A.D.) were despotic. Not all Chinese scholars have such an opinion, however. For example, Xu Zhongshu believes that in the Shang Dynasty (ca. 16th century – 11th century) the political power was shared by the king and his aristocrats (Xu Zhongshu 1992: 65–68, 362; 1998: 761–770). In the 80s in the 20th century, mainly influenced by the studies of ancient city-states, particularly of the city-states in Near East, by European and American scholars, some Chinese scholars who specialized in the Pre-Qin dynasties started to seek for similar political forms of city-states in China, and indeed they found various data about the early state power in the Three Dynasties of China (ca. 21st century – 256 B.C.) that could not be explained simply by the concept of autocracy. Although up to now many Chinese scholars still regard the political organizations in ancient Chinese history since the Xia Dynasty as despotic, there are gradually more and more specialists who believe that non-autocracy did exist in some periods of ancient China after the Wudi2 Age (ca. 26th century – ca. 22nd century B.C.).

As for the widespread belief in China in this connection, we may mention two books as examples. One is Zhongguo Zhengzhi Zhidu Tongshi [History of Chinese Political System] (Bai Gang [ed.] 1996), the other is Zhongguo Gudai Wenming Yu Guojia Xingcheng Yanjiu [Study of the Formation of Civilization and the State in Ancient China] (Li Xueqin [ed.] 1997). As relating to the discussion in this article, the main contents of these two books were all written by the scholars specializing in the Pre-Qin dynasties at the Institute of History of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. The most influential scholar who believes there were democratic political organizations in the Pre-Qin Age of China is Lin Zhichun at the Institute for the History of Ancient Civilizations of the Hunan Normal University. His studies have attracted great attention. He argues definitely that there were democratic city-states in ancient China, just as in ancient Mesopotamia, Greece, and Italy (Lin Zhichun 1980; Ri Zhi 1981, 1997; Ri Zhi and Ting Yun 1981; Ri Zhi [ed.] 1989).

It is interesting to note that almost all scholars in China, no matter in what kind of forms of state power in China since Xia Dynasty they believe, reach the same conclusion on the character of the political forms in the Wudi Age before the Xia Dynasty. However, if one studies how they have come to their conclusion one may find that they draw it from theory rather than from historical data. In a word, the reason they reach that conclusion lies in their belief in the theory of the military democracy by Lewis H. Morgan (1877) and Friedrich Engels (1995[1884])3. Most Chinese scholars believe that the first time China came into the stage of statehood is during the Xia Dynasty. According to the theory of Morgan and Engels, as understood by Chinese scholars, the evolutionary stage before statehood is a military democracy. Therefore, it is easy to imagine that from such a theory Chinese scholars reached the conclusion that the political organization in the Wudi Age is some form of military democracy, which differs greatly from despotism in the later ages.

Jin Jingfang describes the difference between the Wudi Age and the Sanwang4 Age as follows:

In the Chinese history, nobody was called ‘Di’ before Huangdi5 and Yandi6, and nobody was called ‘Wang’ before the three dynasties of Xia, Shang, and Zhou… …Wang and Di represented respectively two different historical ages. ‘Di’ in the name ‘Huangdi’ had the same meaning as ‘Di’ in the names of ‘Diyao’ and ‘Dishun’, which in fact was the title of military chiefs in the age of tribe confederacy of the primitive Chinese society. However, ‘Wang’ in the dynasties of Xia, Shang, and Zhou was the title of despotic monarchs in the society of slavery (Jin Jingfang 1983: 2).

Here, I have to mention that ‘the age of tribe confederacy of the primitive Chinese society’ has the same meaning as ‘the age of military democracy of the primitive Chinese society’, for Chinese scholars generally take the term ‘the age of tribe confederacy’ as the substitute of ‘the age of military democracy’ (e.g., see Jin Jingfang 1983: 2).

Since Huangdi, Diyao, and Dishun were military chiefs in ‘the age of tribe confederacy of the primitive Chinese society’ or ‘the age of military democracy of the primitive Chinese society’, Jin Jingfang thinks that ‘Siyue’ in Yaodian [The Canon of Yao] of Shangshu [The Books of the Elder] should be understood as ‘the vassals from four directions’, just as explained by ‘Baiguan Gongqing Biao’ [List of Gong, Qing, and Other Officials] in Hanshu [History of Han Dynasty], and consequently the real meaning of ‘consult with Siyue’ should be ‘call tribal chiefs of the confederacy together to discuss some affairs’ (Jin Jingfang 1983: 45). That is to say, there was an assembly or a council of chiefs. And, according to the theory of military democracy, as understood by Chinese scholars, in this period China should also have had another power organization, namely the people's assembly. Jin Jingfang has not found this kind of assembly in the ‘Yuxiashu’ [The Books of Yuxia] of Shangshu, but he says that this assembly is reflected in the classics, such as ‘Xiaosikou’ of Zhouli [Rites of the Zhou], Zuozhuan [Zuo's Commentary7], and ‘Pangeng’ of Shangshu. For this reason, Jing Jingfang infers:

Without doubt, these materials indeed reveal some information on the people's assembly in the gentile society… It can be affirmed that in the later period of the gentile society of China, that is, in the period of Yao and Shun, Chinese reached already the Later Period of Barbarism (Jin Jingfang 1983: 9).

Therefore, Jin Jingfang says, he can be sure that, in this period of military democracy, the Chinese society was ruled by the council of chiefs, the assembly of the people, and the supreme military chief. That is to say, in the period of the Wudi, before the emergence of the early state, the political organization in the Chinese society was democratic.

Certainly, there is more evidence to support his argument. In early China there were very interesting legends of the ‘demise of the throne’, a type of stories not easy to be explained by the theory of despotism. It was said that Yao8 voluntarily demised his throne to Shun9, Shun to Yu10, and Yu to Boyi11 (Kong Yingda 1980: 117–124; Wu Yujiang 1993: 67, 77; Jiao Xun 1987: 643–652; Wang Xianqian 1988: 462–463; Chen Qiyou 1984: 1514; Sima Qian 1982a, 1982b). Such data reveal that the mode of succession of the supreme chief at that time is different from the one in the later age, in which a father passed his throne to his son or an elder brother to his younger brother. The difference between the two successions was summarized by Hanshi Yizhuan, cited by Gai Kuanrao:

The Wudi took their office as a public position and Sanwang regarded it as a familial one. The position that was regarded as a familial one was passed on to the son of the king. The position that was taken as a public one was passed on to a sage. Just as the turn of seasons, one left his position after one had done his duty. The position should not be occupied by someone who was not suitable for it (Ban Gu 1962: 3247).

One type of succession was from father to son and another from sage to sage. Between those two types of succession there was a fundamental difference. Even the stories relating to Yao, Shun, Yu, and Boyi were not stories of demise, but in the view of some scholars usurpation of the throne. This holds for scholars as Hanfeizi (ca. 280 – 233 B.C.) in later time (Wang Xianshen 1998: 400–409, 465–468; Fang Shiming and Wang Xiuling 1987: 63)12. The succession before King Qi of the Xia Dynasty was indeed different from the model of a father to his son in later time.

The age of Yao, Shun, Yu, and Boyi is too remote from us and the legends found among them cannot be proven even up to now. However, in the literature of later times, we may still find some traces of them. ‘When the great Dao ran, people took all positions as public ones and all of them were occupied by the sages and the competent men through selection (election?)’ (Zheng Xuan and Kong Yingda 1980: 1414). Such a picture of selection (election?) in the golden age of ‘Datong’13 was drawn not only by the scholars of Confucianism, but particularly in details also by the scholars of Mohism:

Knowing that the cause for the chaos of the country is that there is no chief executive to unify all the thoughts of the people, a virtuous and talented man of great insight and wisdom from the country should be selected (elected?) as Tianzi [Son of the Heaven] to assume such a mission. After Tianzi is enthroned, three men should be selected (elected?) as Gong as his assistants to unify all the thoughts of the people. Those men should be virtuous and talented ones of great insight and wisdom in the country. For Tianzi is not able to unify all the thoughts of the people in the country by himself alone, even with all his best, and all the capabilities of his ears and eyes. The country is too big and the various thoughts of those people, who live in the mountains, the forests, and the areas far away, are not easy to be unified; therefore the country should be divided in thousands of states, and accordingly the same number of positions of rulers should be established for those states, in the purpose to make the various thoughts of all the people in each state be more easily unified, after Tianzi and the three Gong come to power. After a state ruler comes to power, the virtuous men from the state should be selected (elected?) as Jiangjun Daifu around the ruler and all other officials down till the heads of villages and neighborhoods to assist their ruler to unify the various thoughts of all the people in their state, as the ruler is not able to complete this mission by himself alone, even with all his best, all his capabilities of his ears and eyes (Wu Yujiang 1993: 116).

Although this description does not tell us there who has/have the responsibility to select (or elect?) those officials and how to select (or elect?) them, from Tianzi to the heads of villages and neighborhoods, we may still find a fundamental difference between this story and the process of how Tianzi and all his officials came to power in historical times. The picture of selection (or election?) of all officials should not be based only on somebody's imagination, however. It will reflect at least shadows of the past ages. Such a kind of non-autocratic idea promoted by the Mohist scholars was indeed too much opposed to the despotic ideology in the later ages and as a result Mozi (ca. 480 – ca. 420 B.C.)14 was rarely mentioned by the advocates of the autocratic monarchy over a long period of time.

It was so in the period of military democracy, as regarded by most Chinese historians, or, in the period of chiefdoms, as regarded by some Chinese scholars who have the evolutionary theory of Elman R. Service (1962, 1975) in mind. But, what was really going on in the periods of emergence and development of the Chinese early states? In other words, what was going on in the periods of the Xia, Shang, and Zhou Dynasties? Could we still find records or traces of non-autocracy then?

It is not easy to draw a political picture of the Xia and Shang Dynasties, particularly the Xia Dynasty, for the scarcity of data. However, for decades some historians have concentrated on the study of the political development of the Xia and Shang Dynasties, particularly on the latter, therefore I can tell something at least about the classification of the political organization of the Shang Dynasty. It is not possible to introduce those scholars' achievements completely here. What I can state here is, based on the studies of a number of sinologists and of myself, that at least the political organization of Shang Dynasty could not be completely or simply characterized by the concept of autocracy.

For example, Xu Zhongshu and Wanghui consider that the succession of kingship in the Shang Dynasty was not a hereditary system (Xu Zhongshu 1992: 65–68, 362; 1998: 761–770; Wang Hui 2000: 293). The king came to power through election by the aristocrats. Zhang Guangzhi says that the kingship fell to different royal families in turns (Zhang Guangzhi 1963, 1965a, 1965b, 197315). Chao Fulin says that the kingship of the Shang Dynasty was limited by ‘the Fangguo Alliance’16, priests, and clans. And even more, he argues that in the early Shang Dynasty there was a system of twin-kings, like that in Sparta, which may be considered as the democratic remains of earlier times (Chao Fulin 1985, 1986, 1990; 1996: 87–88, 97). It goes without saying that for the period before that Tang overthrew the Xia Dynasty (ca. 16th century B.C.), or in more detail, the period between Shiren and the time when Chengtang defeated Jie, the last king of the Xia Dynasty, Chinese scholars would agree that the Shang society was organized in a more democratic way, just as Peng Bangjiong said that, in that period, Shang was undergoing ‘the age of military democracy, when the Later Period of Barbarism was transforming into the Period of Civilization’ (Peng Bangjiong 1988: 52–64).

Though there are still different opinions, or more accurately, there are still many scholars who believe that during the Shang Dynasty the political organization was despotic, we have to admit that the influence of the scholars, who argue that the state power there was non-despotic, is gradually increasing. In fact, there are some materials in the Chinese classics that may reveal the characteristics of the political organization of the Yin Shang society much more clearly than those often cited do. I wonder why they are neglected by many scholars for so long. For example, with regard to the way of decision-making in the Shang Dynasty, I find in the ‘Hongfan’ [The Great Plan] of Shangshu the following paragraph:

Appoint these people to be diviners who use tortoise shells to foretell and those people to be diviners who use milfoil to foretell. When the three diviners are divining, follow the two out of them if the three have two kinds of opinions among them. If you have doubts about important matters, consult with your own heart, consult with the Qinshi17, consult with the Shuren18, and consult the tortoises and milfoils. It is auspicious and it is called great concord, with which your body will be healthy and your descendents will be in a big number, if you agree, the tortoises agree, the milfoils agree, the Qinshi agree, and the Shumin19 agree. It is auspicious if you agree, the tortoises agree, and the milfoils agree, while the Qinshi oppose, and the Shumin oppose. It is auspicious if the Qinshi agree, the tortoises agree, and the milfoils agree, while you oppose, and the Shumin oppose. It is auspicious if the Shumin agree, the tortoises agree, and the milfoils agree, while you oppose, and the Qinshi oppose. It is auspicious for internal operations, but ominous for external operations, if you agree, and the tortoises agree, while the milfoils oppose, the Qinshi oppose, and the Shumin oppose. It is auspicious to do nothing, but ominous to do something, if the tortoises and milfoils are all opposed to the views of men (Sun Xingyan 1986: 312–313).

‘Hongfan’ is one of the Chinese classics that described the politics and the culture of the Yin Shang people. It is said that it was narrated by Jizi, an uncle of the last king Zhou of the Shang Dynasty, and written by the official of historiography of the Zhou Dynasty, when King Wu (1027–1025 B.C.) of the Zhou Dynasty (11th century – 256 B.C.)20 consulted Jizi in the second year after he destroyed the Shang Dynasty21 how to rule the country. From the paragraph cited above we may infer that the power structure of the Shang society is surely not suitable to be described as ‘despotic’, as many scholars have done. It is reasonable to conclude from it that the king's power during the Shang Dynasty was not only subject to some restrictions now and then, but also to systemized limitations, provided the society was in a normal situation. It is very distinct that it was not only the king who had the power to make decisions. In the process of decision-making, the role played by the king seems equal to that of the group of the Qinshi (Li Xueqin 1983) or the Shumin. And it is interesting to note that the divinations, or in other words, the diviners, seemed to be even more influential than the king in this process, although the king himself might also be one of the diviners (Song Zhenhao 1987; 1994: 526–529; Wang Yuxin and Yang Shengnan 1999: 212–217).

Another point should be noted. If the three diviners, mentioned in the sentence ‘when the three diviners are divining, follow the two out of them if the three have two different opinions among them’, were the principal diviner (the king diviner), the right diviner, and the left diviner of the ‘system of three diviners’ in the Shang Dynasty (Song Zhenhao 1987; 1994: 526–529; Wang Yuxin and Yang Shengnan 1999: 212–217), then it may be inferred at least that, on the divination itself, decisions were made not by the principal diviner or the king diviner alone, but by the majority of the three diviners. Although some scholars may argue that such a rule might not be followed exactly, we still have to admit that this was not a kind of decision-making process of despotism, even if in consideration of its form only. The non-despotic character of the divination in the Shang society must have reflected the non-despotic character of the society itself.

When we come to the Zhou Dynasty, particularly to the Spring and Autumn Period (770–476 B.C.), the material becomes more and more abundant, including information relating to non-autocracy. On the various powers to check and balance the ruler's power, the most influential studies are conducted by Lin Zhichun and He Ziquan (Lin Zhichun 1980; Ri Zhi 1981; Ri Zhi and Ting Yun 1981; Ri Zhi [ed.] 1989: 25–60; Ri Zhi 1997; He Ziquan 1989, 1990; 1991: 32–44, 100–106)22. The most important political organizations of non-autocracy found in this period were the assembly of the Guoren and the assembly of the Daifu, respectively similar to the assembly of the people and the senate or the council of elders in many early Indo-European societies. The typical terms in the classics regarding to the two organizations are ‘meeting the Guoren’, ‘meeting the assembled people’, ‘meeting the Daifu’, ‘calling up the Daifu together’, and so on. It is on the occasions to make decisions on important state affairs, such as diplomatic relations, royal successions, war or peace, that the two organizations played a role. It is said in the ‘Xiao Sikou’ of Zhouli:

The responsibility of Xiao Sikou is to call all the people together for consultation about the important affairs in the outer court of the palace. There are three occasions to call all the people together and to ask them for their opinions. One occasion is when the state is in danger, another is when the state23 needs to be moved to another place, and the third is when there is an issue of royal succession (Zheng Xuan and Jia Gongyan 1980: 873).

Those three kinds of affairs were the most important ones for most early states, no matter where they were located in the world.

As for the two kinds of organizations mentioned above and the roles played by the Guoren and the Daifu (and/or the elders), there are a lot of records in Zuozhuan. Besides that, in Guoyu [Talks from the States] we also find that the elders were very influential in their society. For example, it was said in the part ‘Zhouyu Shang’ [Talks from the State Zhou, Part I] of Guoyu:

King Xuan wanted to find somebody whose surname is Ji as his own to instruct the vassals. Fan Muzhong recommended the marquis of the state Lu to him, ‘The marquis of Lu is filial’.

The king asked, ‘How do you know it?’

Fan Muzhong replied, ‘He is serious and solemn when he is worshiping the gods. He reveres the elders. He always consults the elders about the instructions of the former kings and the set of rules when he has to deal with state affairs and juristic affairs. He has never opposed the instructions of the former kings and the advice of the elders with whom he has consulted’.

The king said, ‘If so he can instruct and rule his people’.

Then the king appointed Xiaogong of Lu24 as the head of the vassals in the Palace Yi (Shanghai Shifan Daxue Guji Zhengli Yanjiusuo 1988: 23).

Another piece of evidence is what Shu Xiang said in ‘Jinyu’ [Talks from the State Jin] of Guoyu:

I heard that the set of rules must be followed and the elders must be consulted with before taking actions on important state affairs (Shanghai Shifan Daxue Guji Zhengli Yanjiusuo 1988: 457).

Those citations seem enough to prove that it is at least a kind of rules or a kind of tradition for the ruler to consult with and follow the elders, and consult and follow the set of rules before taking actions on important state affairs.

In Zuozhuan we may find even much more abundant evidence than in Guoyu to support what we regard as non-autocracy in the Chinese early states. For example, it was said in the eighteenth year of Xigong of the state Lu (642 B.C.) in Zuozhuan:

In winter a body of men from Xing and a body of men from Di were invading the state Wei. They were besieging Tupu. The marquis of Wei wanted to demise his position to any one of the fathers, the brothers, or the sons of the state. When meeting the assembled people he said, ‘I, Hui25, like to obey if somebody of you is able to deal with the enemy’.

The people declined the suggestion of the marquis of Wei. Then the army was sent to Zilou (Hong Liangji 1987: 302).

Another example I may offer is in the eighth year of Dinggong of the state Lu (502 B.C.) in Zuozhuan:

The marquis of the state Wei wanted to rebel against the state Jin, but he was afraid that the Daifu would not agree with him. At the suggestion of Wangsun Jia the marquis moved to the suburb. The Daifu asked why he did so. He told that the reason was for the insults from Jin. He said, ‘I have disgraced the state. I will obey if I should be deposed and you divine for somebody else to succeed me as the ruler’.

The Daifu said, ‘It is a disaster to Wei. It is not your fault’.

The marquis of Wei said, ‘There is something even worse. My son and your sons are all required to be sent as hostages’.

The Daifu said, ‘If the prince goes there, how the sons of the subjects dare not follow him, carrying their halters and ropes, provided it is helpful?’

Before leaving Wangsun Jia said, ‘If the state Wei is in danger that may be sure that the artificers and merchants may not make troubles? Therefore let their sons come together’.

The marquis of Wei reported it to the Daifu and then the sons of the artificers and merchants would come together. After the date for departure was set the marquis met the Guoren and let Jia ask them, ‘If Wei revolts against Jin and Jin comes to attack us for five times, what will be the bad results?’

The Guoren all replied, ‘We are still able to fight even if Jin will attack us for five times’.

Jia said, ‘Then why don't we rebel against Jin? It would not be too late to be hostages if our rebellion would fail’.

Then the state Wei rebelled against the state Jin. Wei refused to continue their alliance with Jin when the latter asked to (Hong Liangji 1987: 826–827).

The third example may be found in the first year of Aigong of the state Lu (494 B.C.) in Zuozhuan:

An envoy was sent by the state Wu to summon Huaigong of the state Chen to join Wu when Wu was invading the state Chu. Huaigong met the Guoren and asked them what they would like to do. He said to them, ‘Those who like to enter into an alliance with Chu please stand on the right and those who like to enter into an alliance with Wu please stand on the left’.

These people of Chen whose lands were close to Chu stood on the right and those whose lands were close to Wu stood on the left. Those who had no lands stood by their clans respectively (Hong Liangji 1987: 845).

Not only the Daifu and the Guoren had the right to express their own opinions on important state affairs, but also they had the power to send their rulers into exile, arrest them, or even execute them. For example, it was said in the twenty-eighth year of Xigong of the state Lu (632 B.C.) in Zuozhuan that:

The marquis of the state Jin and the marquis of the state Qi entered into an alliance with each other in Lianyu of the state Wei. The marquis of Wei wanted to enter into the alliance with them too, but the marquis of Jin didn't allow him to do it. The marquis of Wei wanted to enter into an alliance with the state Chu, but the Guoren didn't like to do so and therefore they sent their ruler into exile to please the state Jin. The marquis of Wei lived in Xiangniu as an exile (Hong Liangji 1987: 328).

The reason that the Guoren dared do so is that they were the warriors on whom their country depended for its own safety and survival. It was said in the second year of Mingong of the state Lu (660 B.C.) in Zuozhuan:

In December of the winter a body of men from Di was attacking the state Wei.

Yigong of Wei loved cranes. He let some of his pets sitting on the carriages that were designed for the Daifu. When going to fight, the Guoren who were called up all said, ‘Please let the cranes fight. The cranes have positions and salaries of the state. How are we able to fight?’

…When fought the people from Di in Yingze the army of Wei was defeated. The body of men from Di put the state Wei in perdition (Hong Liangji 1987: 256–266).

This story explains well the significance of the warriors for their country. Similar stories of retreat occurred for several times in the early history of the Roman Republic, where the main role was played by the plebeians, who attained at last similar rank in Rome as the Guoren in the Chinese early state Wei only through such activities.

During that period the role played by the Guoren was often decisive. Such a fact must have impressed deeply the later scholars, such as Mencius (ca. 372–289 B.C.), who said once to King Xuan of the state Qi (reign: 319–306 B.C.):

It is not enough even if the people on your left and right all say that somebody is virtuous. It is not enough even if the Daifu all say that he is virtuous. Investigate whether that man is virtuous if the Guoren all say that he is virtuous. Give him office if you find him really virtuous.

Don't believe it even if the people on your left and right all say that somebody is not qualified for a post. Don't believe it even if the Daifu all say that he is not qualified for the post. Investigate whether that man is not qualified for it if the Guoren all say that he is not qualified for it. Remove him from his position if you find him really not qualified for the post.

Don't execute somebody even if the people on your left and right all say that he should be executed. Don't execute him even if the Daifu all say that he should be executed. Investigate whether that man should be executed if the Guoren all say that he should be executed. Execute him if he really should be executed. That is why it is said that man is executed by the Guoren (Jiao Xun 1987: 144).

It is interesting to note here that a new important group – the people on the king's left and right – appeared. Such an important group may be found in most societies around the world whose political organizations are despotic or alike. That means the political structure of the state Qi at that time may be described as an autocratic one, or at least, was transforming into despotism. That is why we find in the discussion quoted above that the power to make final decisions was controlled by the king alone. In the period of Mencius the process of annexation of numerous small early states by several big states was accelerated through continual and fierce wars, meanwhile the political organizations of those powers had been transformed into autocratic ones. However, even so we may still find that the Guoren and the Daifu were very influential in their societies.

Mencius talked with King Xuan of Oi many times. Another interesting dialogue between them we note is that one day King Xuan of Oi consulted Mencius about the Qing (the ministers):

Mencius said, ‘What a kind of Qing does Your Majesty want to know about?’

The king asked, ‘Are there different kinds of Qing?’

Mencius replied, ‘Yes, it is true. There are the Qing related to the royal house and the Qing not related to’.

The king said, ‘Please tell me something about the Qing related to the royal house’.

Mencius said, ‘They have the responsibility to expostulate with their ruler if the latter has committed some grave error and dethrone him if he continues to do it after they expostulate with him for many times’.

The king changed the color on his face at once.

Mencius said, ‘Your Majesty doesn't please be angry! Your Majesty asked me about them, so I, your subject have to tell Your Majesty the truth’.

The king recovered his mood and consulted Mencius about the Qing not related to the royal house.

Mencius replied, ‘They have the responsibility to expostulate with their ruler if the latter has done something wrong and leave their offices if he continues to do so after they expostulate with him for many times’ (Jiao Xun 1987: 728).

It is true that in the period of Mencius we never find that a single ruler was dethroned legally for his faults by his Qing who were related to the royal house. However, the dialogue cited above at least may reveal something in the past that still impressed Mencius and his contemporaries deeply. Such a possibility for this kind of Qing to depose their ruler legally was never a visionary imagination by some scholars, but a tradition, which might be traced to a past period that was still familiar to those scholars. That they ‘have the responsibility to expostulate with their ruler if the latter has committed some grave error and dethrone him if he continues to do it after they expostulate with him for many times’ should have a very deep root in the origin of the kingship. At the beginning it might be the Qing related to the royal house who elected the king from themselves. They and the king were relatives. That is to say, the Chinese early state might originate from the family. The state was a kind of big family. Many facts confirm that. For example, in the Zhou Dynasty the Chinese word ‘Jia’ [family] was often used as the substitute of ‘Guo’ or ‘Bang’ [state] (Sun Xingyan 1986: 345–346; Wang Guowei 1983: 91, 94, 96, 98). The king was the head of the big family. Now that the king was originally elected by his relatives, it is reasonable to infer that the latter naturally had the right to remove him from office if they believed that he was not suitable to it any more. This kind of cases can be found in large numbers in the ethnographies of many societies in many areas of the world.

In fact, the nearer tradition can be found in Zuozhuan. The story of the marquis of Wei mentioned before is a good example. That the people of Wei sent their ruler into exile was a hot topic even for the people in other early states in the Spring and Autumn Period. The following talk in 559 B.C. is well known to the scholars who study ancient Chinese thoughts and political organization:

The music-master Kuang was attending the marquis of the state Jin. The marquis said to him, ‘Was it going too far that the people of the state Wei sent their ruler into exile?’

Kuang replied, ‘I believe that it was their ruler going too far. A good ruler will encourage and reward the virtuous and punish the vicious. He should nourish his people as his children, overshadow them like the heaven does, and contain them like the earth does. Then the people will maintain their ruler. They will love him as one of their own parents, look up to him as the sun or the moon, revere him as a god, and fear him as the thunderbolt. If so how is it possible for the people to send their ruler into exile? The ruler is the host of the gods and the hope of the people. If the ruler makes his people live in straitened circumstances, serves the gods badly, or even doesn't offer sacrifices to the gods, therefore makes his people despair and the altars ownerless, is the ruler useful and are there any better ways than to send him into exile? The heaven gives birth to the people and establishes the position of ruler in order that the ruler may shepherd the people, so that the people will not lose their proper nature. After that the heaven gives the ruler assistants to offer him advice, to protect him, and to prevent him going too far. Therefore the Tianzi has his Gong, the prince has his Qing, the Qing has his Ceshi in charge of the children of the concubines, the Daifu has his Erzong26, the Shi has his friends, and the commoner, the artificer, the merchant, the runner or the bailiff in a government office, the shepherd, or the groom, everyone has his own relatives and intimates to assist him. If the former has done something good the latter will encourage and reward him. If the former has done something bad the latter will correct his mistake. If the former has gotten into trouble the latter will help him come out of it. If the former has done something wrong the latter will put away his error. From a king to a person of the lowest rank, everybody has his own father, brothers, and children to help him, to check and remedy something wrong he has done. The historiographers make their records, the blind musicians make their poems, the music players recite their satires and remonstrance, the Daifu offer admonitions and instructions, the Shi report what they hear, the Shuren make their complaints, the merchants discuss issues on the markets, and the artificers talk to each other when they contribute their skillful contrivance. Therefore it is said in Xiashu [the Books of Xia]: ‘Ringing a wooden-tongued bell when going along his road, the Qiuren [herald] is proclaiming, “You Guanshi [the heads of offices] give your admonitions, and you artificers offer your expostulations when you are contributing your crafts’’’. At the beginning of spring, in the first month of year, there is a date of criticism for the people to point out the faults of the ruler. The heaven loves the people very much. How is it possible that the heaven allows somebody to ride roughshod over the people, to indulge his own excessive desires, and thus to discard the nature of the heaven and the earth? It must not be so (Hong Liangji 1987: 535).

Therefore, if a ruler ‘makes his people despair and the altars ownerless’, not only could he be ‘removed’ from his office or be sent ‘into exile’, but also could be ‘executed’ in the Chinese early states. Such ideology could be found in quite a big number of the classics of Pre-Qin period. Even Xunzi (ca. 313 – ca. 238 B.C.) said so assuredly and boldly with justice: ‘Put a brutal ruler to death as is put a tyrant who is spurned by the people to death’ (Wang Xianqian 1988: 324).

In fact, we may find similar ideologies and experiences in the histories of many minorities in China. We may find a quite long list of leaders who were removed from their offices, sent into exile, or put to death by their aristocrats or their people. In last analysis, although a ruler in the age of the Three Dynasties might be highly revered, he was still a man, not a god, and his relation with his people was not that of a master with his slaves, as in the later time. The supreme leader was only the first among his peers and his rank was only one among the five in the hierarchy:

The Tianzi is one rank, the duke is one rank, the marquis is one rank, the count is one rank, and the viscount and the baron share one rank. There are five ranks totally (Jiao Xun 1987: 676–677).

It is just so. The position of Tianzi is just as pointed out by Gu Yanwu (1613–1682), one of the prominent scholars of Ming and Qing Dynasties:

It is for the people to establish the position of the ruler. Therefore the purpose to establish ranks is not to place the Tianzi as the supreme noble one that is without comparison. The purpose to establish the position of the Tianzi is the same as to establish the positions of duke, marquis, count, viscount, and baron. The reason to pay salary to the ruler is the same as to pay salary to the Qing, the Daifu, or any Shuren who is in civil service. All of them have to spend their time on public affairs so that they have no time to do farm work to support them. That is why to pay them salaries. It is not to pay them for doing nothing. Knowing that the Tianzi is only one of the positions, a ruler then dare not regard himself far above the people and dare not ride roughshod over the people. Knowing that the salary paid to the Tianzi is only paid for his time spent on public affairs, because of which he has no time to do farm work to support himself, he then dare not take too much from the people to indulge his own excessive desires. Most of the rulers who didn't know these reasons and rode roughshod over their people were in the ages after the Three Dynasties (Huang Rucheng 1994: 257–258).

In the Three Dynasties, the belief that ‘the purpose to establish ranks is not to place the Tianzi as the supreme noble one that is without comparison’ prevailed. ‘The purpose to establish the position of the Tianzi is the same as to establish the positions of duke, marquis, count, viscount, and baron’, therefore the ideology allows a Tianzi to be selected (elected?), dethroned, or even executed. The reason is that ‘the purpose to establish the position of the ruler is not for the ruler himself, but for the people’ (Wang Xianqian 1988: 504).

There is no doubt that the political organization of some Chinese early states in the period of Spring and Autumn became transformed to autocratic ones and in the period of the Warring States (475–221 B.C.) such a process was greatly accelerated when numerous Chinese early states were annexed by several big powers and finally all early states were incorporated into a Chinese mature state, the huge Chinese Qin Empire. However, we have to admit there were still confluents or refluxes of non-autocracy even during the autocratic tendencies in the period of the Warring States. To dethrone the ruler, to send the ruler into exile, to arrest the ruler, and even to put the ruler to death may not be easily found as products of systematic political arrangements, but the facts are that when such things occurred the society calmly accepted them, and the public opinion in the societies of other contemporary early states didn't regard them as evil. There is ample evidence to support this argument. Besides the materials cited above, including the dialogue between the marquis of the state Jin and the music-master Kuang about the story that the people of the state Wei sent their ruler into exile, we may still mention the dialogue between King Xuan of the state Qi and Mencius about the issue whether it is justified or not for the subjects to execute their rulers. In both of those dialogues, the two people, the marquis of Jin and King Xuan of Qi, as rulers themselves, naturally sympathizing with the unfortunate rulers, expressed only a kind of slight blame, with no alternative:

‘Was it going too far that the people of the state Wei sent their ruler into exile?’ (Hong Liangji 1987: 535)

‘Is it right for the subjects to execute their ruler?’ (Jiao Xun 1987: 145–146)

Compared with the opinions in the societies of despotism in later time on the people who offended their monarchs, we may find that there is a huge difference. Neither the ruler, nor his subjects in later age would tolerate anybody to hurt his ruler, no matter it was justified or not.

Looking at more societies in the area around China, such as the Korean peninsula, the Japanese islands, or Southeast Asia, we will find numerous similar phenomena as those occurred in the Chinese early states that could not be explained by the concept of despotism either. All those prove that non-autocracy is a general phenomenon in the ancient civilizations of the west Pacific area. Non-autocracy did exist in most of the early states in the world, including the Chinese early states. The widespread belief that the political organization in China was despotic since the Xia Dynasty in all its ancient history is questionable. The Chinese early states had similar forms of political organization as the early states in other areas of the world. Only after the unification in the Qin Empire, or, only after the numerous Chinese early states were finally annexed by the Chinese mature state, non-autocracy in the ancient Chinese society was then almost completely drowned by the huge tide of despotism.

Outline of a Chronology of Pre-Qin China

Ca. 26th century – ca. 22nd century B.C. Wudi Age

Ca. 21st century – ca. 16th century B.C. Xia Dynasty

Ca. 16th century – 11th century B.C. Shang Dynasty

11th century – 256 B.C. Zhou Dynasty

11th century – 771 B.C. Western Zhou

770–256 B.C. Eastern Zhou

770–476 B.C. Spring and Autumn Period

475–221 B.C. Warring State period

NOTES

1 I am very grateful to Liu Jiahe for his useful comments on my translation of the Chinese classics cited in this article, to Silvin Kosak for his kind correcting of my English, to Henri J. M. Claessen for his kind correcting of my article, and to Pieter van de Velde for his editorial comments.

2 ‘Wu’: ‘five’; ‘Di’: ‘the supreme leader’ in the age before Xia Dynasty. ‘Di’ has mainly been used as ‘emperor’ since Qin Dynasty.

3 The earliest scholars in China who made use of this theory were Guo Moruo and Lü Zhenyu. See Guo Moruo 1964[1930]: 9–10, 36–38, 207–208;
Lü Zhenyu 1961[1934]: 88–127.

4 ‘San’: ‘three’; ‘Wang’: ‘king’; ‘Sangwang’: the kings in the three dynasties of Xia, Shang, and Zhou.

5 One of the legendary Wudi.

6 One of the legendary Wudi.

7 Zuo's Commentary on Chunqiu [Spring and Autumn Annals].

8 One of the legendary Wudi.

9 One of the legendary Wudi.

10 Successor of Shun, and father of Qi, the founder of Xia Dynasty.

11 One important official of Shun and Yu.

12 As for the discussions on the legends of demise or usurpation, see Gu Jiegang 1982; Wang Yuzhe 1986, 2000: 135–141; Yang Ximei 1995.

13 ‘Da’: ‘big, great’; ‘Tong’: ‘harmony’.

14 The date is still on discussion. Here the date is from Ren Jiyu. See Ren Jiyu 1983: 208–209.

15 As for the related discussions, see Liu Binxiong 1965; Yang Ximei 1966; Ding Su 1966; Chen Qinan 1973.

16 Fangguo: the small and subject polity.

17 The high rank officials, who came usually from the noble families.

18 The common people.

19 The same as the Shuren.

20 Western Zhou: 11th – 771 B.C.; Eastern Zhou: 770–256 B.C.

21 As for the time when Hongfan was written, see Liu Qiyu 1991: 303–336; Zhang Bingnan 1987: 50.

22 As for others' studies, see Xu Hongxiu 1981; Tian Changwu 1982: 190–200; Tian Changwu and Zang Zhifei 1996: 85–95; Lin Ganquan 1986, 1998; Hao Tiechuan 1986; Gong Jie 1988; Liu Jiahe 1989; Li Quan and Du Jianmin 1995; Chao Fulin 2000.

23 The capital.

24 The posthumous name of the marquis of Lu mentioned above, which may be translated as Filial Ruler of Lu.

25 The name of the marquis of Wei.

26 Assistant to Daifu. This position was occupied by a younger brother of the Daifu's clan.

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Fig. 1. Map of Spring and Autumn Period27

Source from: http://www.chinaknowledge.de/History/Zhou/zhou-map.html. Please note that the last year of this period in this map is not 476 B.C., but 475 B.C.