CHAPTER II. SHIFTING SCENES

Having now seen how the Chinese people, taking advantage of the material and moral growth naturally following upon a settled industrial existence, and above all upon the exclusive possession of a written character, gradually imposed themselves as rulers upon the ignorant tribes around them, let us see to what families these Chinese emigrant adventurers or colonial satraps belonged. To begin with the semi-Tartar power in the River Wei Valley - destined six hundred years later to conquer the whole of China as we know it to-day - the ruling caste claimed descent from the most ancient (and of course partly mythological) Emperors of China; but for over a thousand years previous to 842 B.C. this remote branch of the Chinese race had become scattered and almost lost amongst the Tartars. However, a generation or two before our opening period, one of these princes had served the then ruling imperial dynasty as a sort of guardian to the western frontier, as a rearer of horses for the metropolitan stud, and perhaps even as a guide on the occasion of imperial expeditions into Tartarland. The successor of the Emperor who was driven from his capital in 842 B.C. about twenty years later employed this western satrap to chastise the Tartar nomads whose revolt had in part led to the imperial flight. After suffering some disasters, the conductors of this series of expeditions were at last successful, and in 815 B.C. the title of "Warden of the Western Marches" was officially conferred on the ruler for the time being of this western state, who in 777 B.C. had the further honour of seeing one of his daughters married to the Emperor himself. This political move on the part of the Emperor was unwise, for it led indirectly to the Tartars, who were frequently engaged in war with the Warden, interfering in the quarrels about the imperial succession, in which question the Tartars naturally thought they had a right to interfere in the interests of their own people. The upshot of it was that in 771 B.C. the Emperor was killed by the Tartars in battle, and it was only by securing the military assistance of the semi-Tartar Warden of the Marches that the imperial dynasty was saved. As it was, the Emperor's capital was permanently moved east from the immediate neighbourhood of what we call Si-ngan Fu in Shen Si province to the immediate neighbourhood of Ho-nan Fu in the modern Ho Nan province; and as a reward for his services the Warden was granted nearly the whole of the original imperial patrimony west of the Yellow River bend and on both sides of the Wei Valley. This was also in the year 771 B.C., and this is really one of the great pivot-points in Chinese history, of equal weight with the almost contemporaneous founding of Rome, and the gradual substitution of a Roman centre for a Greek centre in the development and civilization of the Far West. The new capital was not, however, a new city. Shortly after the imperial dynasty gained the possession of China in 1122 B.C., it had been surveyed, and some of the regalia had been taken thither; this, with a view of making it one of the capitals at least, if not the sole capital.

As Chinese names sound uncouth to our Western ears, and will, therefore, in these introductory chapters only be used sparingly and gradually, it becomes correspondingly difficult to explain historical phenomena adequately whilst endeavouring to avoid as far as possible the use of such unintelligible names: it will be well, then, to sum up the situation, and even repeat a little, so that the reader may assimilate the main points without fatigue or repulsion. The reigning dynasty of Chou had secured the adhesion of the thousand or more of Chinese vassal princes in 1122 B.C., and had in other words "conquered" China by invitation, much in the same way, and for very much the same general reasons, that William III. had' accepted the conquest of the British Isles; that is to say, because the people were dissatisfied with their legitimate ruler and his house. But, before this conquest, the vassal princes of Chou had occupied practically the same territory, and had stood in the same relation to the imperial dynasty subsequently ousted by them in 1122, that the Wardens of the Marches occupied and stood in when the imperial house of Chou in turn fled east in 771 B.C. The Shang dynasty thus ousted by the Chou princes in 1122, had for like misgovernment driven out the Hia dynasty in 1766 B.C. Thus, at the time when the Wardens of the Marches (whose real territorial title was Princes of Ts'in) practically put the imperial power into commission in 771 B.C., the two old-fashioned dynasties of Shang and Chou had already ruled patriarchally for almost exactly one thousand years, and nothing of either a very startling, or a very definite, character had taken place at all within the comparatively narrow area described in our first chapter.