CHAPTER XV. STATE INTERCOURSE

Whatever may be the reason why details of interstate movement are lacking up to 842 B.C., it is certain that, from the date of the Emperor's flight eastwards in 771, the utmost activity prevailed between state and state within the narrow area to which, as we have seen, the federated Chinese empire was confined. Confucius' history, covering the 250-year period subsequent to 722, consists largely of statements that this duke visited that country, or returned from it, or drew up a treaty with it, or negotiated a marriage with it. "Society," in a political sense, consisted of the four great powers, Ts'in, Tsin, Ts'i, and Ts'u, surrounding the purely Chinese enclave; and of the innumerable petty Chinese states, mostly of noble and ancient lineage, only half a dozen of them of any size, which formed the enclave in question, and were surrounded by Ts'in, Tsin, Ts'i, and Ts'u, to the west, north, east, and south. Secondary states in extent and in military power, like Lu, CHENG, and Wei, whilst having orthodox and in some cases barbarian sub-vassals of their own, were themselves, if not vassals to, at all events under the predominant influence of, one or the other of the four great powers. Thus Lu was at first nearly always a handmaid of Ts'i, but later fell under the influence of Tsin, Ts'u, and Wu; Cheng always coquetted between Tsin and Ts'u, not out of love for either, but in order to protect her own independence; and so on with the rest. If we inquire what a really small state meant in those days, the answer is that the modern walled city, with its district of several hundred square miles lying around it, was (and usually still is) the equivalent of the ancient principality; and proof of that lies in the fact that one of the literary designations of what we now term a "district magistrate" is still "city marquess." Another proof is that in ancient times "your state" was a recognized way of saying "your capital town"; and "my poor town" was the polite way of saying "our country"; both expressions still used in elegant diplomatic composition.

This being so, and it having besides been the practice for a visiting duke always to take along with him a "minister in attendance," small wonder that prominent Chinese statesmen from the orthodox states were all personal friends, or at least correspondents and acquaintances, who had thus frequent opportunity of comparing political notes. To this day there are no serious dialect differences whatever in the ancient central area described in the first chapter, nor is there any reason to suppose that the statesmen and scholars who thus often met in conclave had any difficulty in making themselves mutually understood. The "dialects"' of which we hear so much in modern times (which, none the less, are all of them pure Chinese, except that the syllables differ, just as coeur, cuore, and corazon, coracao, differ from cor), all belong to the southern coasts, which were practically unknown to imperial China in Confucius' time. The Chinese word which we translate "mandarin" also means "public" or "common," and "mandarin dialect" really means "current" or "common speech," such as is, and was, spoken with no very serious modifications all over the enclave; and also in those parts of Ts'in, Tsin, Ts'i, and Ts'u, which immediately impinged upon the enclave, in the ratio of their proximity. Finally, Shen Si, Shan Si, Shan Tung, and Hu Kwang are still called Ts'in, Tsin, Ts'i, and Ts'u in high-class official correspondence; and so with all other place-names. China has never lost touch with antiquity.

There is record for nearly every thing: the only difficulty is to separate what is relevant from what is irrelevant in the mass of confused data.

Another matter must be considered. Although the Chinese never had a caste system in the Hindoo sense, there is, as we have stated once before, every reason to believe that the ruling classes and the educated classes were nearly all nobles, in the sense that they were all lineal or branch descendants, whether by first- class wife or by concubine, of either the ruling dynastic family or of some previous imperial dynastic family. Some families were by custom destined for hereditary ministers, others for hereditary envoys, others again for hereditary soldiers; not, it is true, by strict rule, but because the ancient social idea favoured the descent of office, or land, or trade, or craft from father to son. This, indeed, was part of the celebrated Kwan-tsz's economic philosophy. Thus generation after generation of statesmen and scholars kept in steady touch with one another, exactly as our modern scientists of the first rank, each as a link, form an unbroken intimate chain from Newton down to Lord Kelvin, outside which pale the ordinary layman stands a comparative stranger to the arcana within.

Kwan-tsz, the statesman-philosopher of Ts'i, and in a sense the founder of Chinese economic science, was himself a scion of the imperial Chou clan; every writer on political economy subsequent to 643 B.C. quotes his writings, precisely as every European philosophical writer cites Bacon. Quite a galaxy of brilliant statesmen and writers, a century after Kwan-tsz, shed lustre upon the Confucian age (550-480), and nearly all of them were personal friends either of Confucius or of each other, or of both. Thus Tsz-ch'an of CHENG, senior to Confucius, but beloved and admired by him, was son of a reigning duke, and a prince of the ducal CHENG family, which again was descended from a son of the Emperor who fled in 842 B.C.