About twenty-five centuries ago - in 546 B.C., to be precise - the Chinese Powers had a "Hague Conference" with a view to the reduction of armaments. This is how Confucius' pupil, Tso K'iu- ming, tells the story in the "Tso Chwan," or expanded version of Confucius' "Springs and Autumns" (for convenience the names of the ancient States are changed to those of the modern provinces corresponding with them): -
"A statesman of Ho Nan, being on friendly terms with his colleagues of Shan Si and Hu Pconceived the idea of making a name for himself by proposing a cessation of armaments. He went first to Shan Si, and interviewed the Premier there; the Premier consulted his colleagues in the Shan Si ministry, and one of them said: 'War is ruinous to the people, and a fearful waste of wealth; it is the curse of the smaller Powers. Although the idea will come to nothing, we must consent to a conference; otherwise Hu Phwill consent to it first, in order to gain favour with the Powers, and thus we shall lose the predominant position we now occupy.' So Shan Si consented.
"Then (the narrative continues) Hu Peh was visited, and also consented. Then Shan Tung (the German sphere now). Shan Tung did not like the idea; but one of the Shan Tung Ministers said: 'Shan Si and Hu Phhave agreed, and we have no help for it. Besides, the world will say that there would be a cessation of armaments were it not for our refusal, and thus our own people will vote against us. What is the use of that?' So Shan Tung consented. Next Shen Si was notified. Shen Si also consented. Then the whole four great Powers notified the minor States, and a great durbar (of fourteen States) was held at a minor court in Ho Nan."
The curious part of it all is that the representative of the Emperor (whose political position was not unlike that of the Popes in Europe since 1870) did not appear at the Conference at all, though all the Great Powers maintained the fiction of granting precedence to the Emperor and his nuncios, and even went through the form of accepting investiture from him and taking tribute presents to the Imperial Court-when it suited them.
This celebrated Peace Conference closed the seventy-two years of almost incessant war that had been going on between Tsin and Ts'in (Shan Si and Shen Si), apart from the subsidiary war between Tsin and Ts'u (Hu Peh).