In 539 B.C. the Ts'i statesman and philosopher Yen-tsz was sent on a mission to Tsin in order to negotiate a political marriage. At this period Han K'i, also called Han Suean-tsz, was the premier of Tsin, and he despatched the minister Shuh Hiang with a complimentary message to the Ts'i envoy, accepting the offer of a suitable wife. At this time the diplomatic relations of the Chinese states were particularly interesting, because, apart from the fact that intellectual premiers ruled all the great states, most of them were personal friends, acquaintances, or correspondents of Confucius, who has left on record his judgment upon each. After the official marriage negotiations were over, Shuh Hiang ordered refreshments, and he and Yen-tsz sat down to a nice quiet little chat by themselves.
Shuh Hiang. How is Ts'i going on?
Yen-tsz. These are bad times. I don't know what I can say about Ts'i, except that it appears to be falling into the hands of the CH'EN family. The prince neglects his people, and consequently they turn to the CH'EN family for protection. In former times Ts'i had three grain measures, each a four multiple of the other - etc. four pints, sixteen pints, sixty-four pints - and finally there was a large measure containing ten times the last, or 640 pints (or litres); but the three measures of the CH'EN family have each been raised by one unit, so that three successive fives multiplied by ten give 800 pints, and their plan is to make loans of grain with their private 8oo-pint measure, and then to take back payments in the prince's measure. The wood from the mountains is sold in the market-place as cheaply as on the mountains; fish, salt, clams, and cockles are sold in the market-place as cheaply as on the shore. On the other hand, two-thirds of the produce of the people's labour go to the prince, whilst only one-third remains for the sustenance of the producers. The prince's stores rot away, whilst our old men die of starvation. False feet are cheaper than shoes in the market-place (owing to the number of people punished with amputation of a foot); the people are smarting with a sense of wrong, and are longing for the advent (of the CH'EN family), whom they love as a parent, and towards whom they tend, just as water runs downhill. Under these circumstances, even if they did not want to gain the people over, how can they avoid it? The last surviving member of that branch of the CH'EN family who traced his descent to previous dynasties has still left his spirit in the land of Ts'i, though the representatives of the family are nominally subjects of Ts'i.
Shuh Hiang. Yes. And even our ruling house of Tsin has fallen on degenerate times. Armies are no longer equipped, and our statesmen are not ready for war. There is no one to lead the chariots, and our battalions have no competent commanders. The common people are utterly exhausted, whilst the extravagance of the palace is unbounded. The starving folk line the roads, whilst money is squandered upon female favourites. The commands of the prince are received by the people as though they longed to escape the clutches of a bandit. The representatives of the eight leading families who have served the state so long and faithfully are reduced to the most insignificant offices. Government is administered in certain private interests, and the people have no one to whom to appeal. The ruler shows no sign of amendment, and endeavours to drown his cares in excessive indulgence. When did the ruling house ever before reach the low depths of to-day? The warning oracle inscribed on the tripod says: "However early you may get to zealous work, your descendants may be lazy." How much more, in the case of a man who will not reform, is disaster likely to be impending soon!
Yen-tsz. What do you propose to do?
Shuh Hiang. The ruling house of Tsin is about exhausted. I have heard it said that when a ruling house is about to fall, its family members drop off first, like the branches and leaves of a stricken tree; and the ruler himself, like the trunk, follows suit. Take my own stock, for instance, which formerly contained eleven family or clan names. The Sheepstongue (cf, English Sheepshanks) clan is my clan, and the only one now left; and I myself have no son fit to be my heir. The ruling house is arbitrary and capricious, so that, even if I am fortunate enough to die in my bed myself, I shall have no one to perform the sacra for me.
In 513 B.C. two generals of the Tsin state carried their arms into the Luh-hun reservation (in modern Ho Nan province), whither, in 638 B.C., the Tartar tribe of that name had been brought to settle by agreement between the two Chinese powers whose territories (Ts'in and Tsin) ran with the Tartars; "and then they drew upon Tsin state for four cwt. of iron, in order to cast a punishment tripod upon which to inscribe the law-book composed by Fan Suean- tsz (a minister)." Confucius said: -