CHAPTER XXV. VASSALS AND EMPEROR
The relations which existed between Emperor and feudal princes are best seen and understood from specific cases involving mutual relations. The Chou dynasty had about 1800 nominal vassals in all, of whom 400 were already waiting at the ford of the Yellow River for the rendezvous appointed by the conquering "Warrior King"; thus the great majority must already have existed as such before the Chou family took power; in other words, they were the vassals of the Shang dynasty, and perhaps, of the distant Hia dynasty too. The new Emperor enfeoffed fifteen "brother" states, and forty more having the same clan-name as himself: these fifty-five were presumably all new states, enjoying mesne-lord or semi-suzerain privileges over the host of insignificant principalities; and it might as well be mentioned here that this imperial clan name of Ki was that of all the ultra-ancient emperors, from 2700 B.C. down to the beginning of the Hia dynasty in 2205 B.C. Fiefs were conferred by the Chou conqueror upon all deserving ministers and advisers as well as upon kinsmen. The more distant princes they enfeoffed possessed, in addition to their distant satrapies, a village in the neighbourhood of the imperial court, where they resided, as at an hotel or town house, during court functions; more especially in the spring, when, if the world was at peace, they were supposed to pay their formal respects to the Emperor. The tribute brought by the different feudal states was, perhaps euphemistically, associated with offerings due to the gods, apparently on the same ground that the Emperor was vaguely associated with God. The Protectors, when the Emperors degenerated, made a great show always of chastising or threatening the other vassals on account of their neglect to honour the Emperor. Thus in 656 the First Protector (Ts'i) made war upon Ts'u for not sending the usual tribute of sedge to the Emperor, for use in clarifying the sacrificial wine. Previously, in 663, after assisting the state of Yen against the Tartars, Ts'i had requested Yen "to go on paying tribute, as was done during the reigns of the two first Chou Emperors, and to continue the wise government of the Duke of Shao." In 581, when Wu's pretensions were rising in a menacing degree, the King of Wu said: "The Emperor complains to me that not a single Ki (i.e. not a single closely-related state) will come to his assistance or send him tribute, and thus his Majesty has nothing to offer to the Emperor Above, or to the Ghosts and Spirits."
Land thus received in vassalage from the Emperor could not, or ought not to, be alienated without imperial sanction. Thus in 711 B.C. two states (both of the Ki surname, and thus both such as ought to have known better) effected an exchange of territory; one giving away his accommodation village, or hotel, at the capital; and the other giving in exchange a place where the Emperor used to stop on his way to Ts'i when he visited Mount T'ai-shan, then, as now, the sacred resort of pilgrims in Shan Tung. Even the Emperor could not give away a fief in joke. This, indeed, was how the second Chou Emperor conferred the (extinct or forfeited) fief of Tsin upon a relative. But just as
Une reine d'Espagne ne regarde pas par la fenetre,
so an Emperor of China cannot jest in vain. An attentive scribe standing by said: "When the Son of Heaven speaks, the clerk takes down his words in writing; they are sung to music, and the rites are fulfilled." When, in 665 B.C., Ts'i had driven back the Tartars on behalf of Yen, the Prince of Yen accompanied the Prince of Ts'i back into Ts'i territory. The Prince of Ts'i at once ceded to Yen the territory trodden by the Prince of Yen, on the ground that "only the Emperor can, when accompanying a ruling prince, advance beyond the limits of his own domain." This rule probably refers only to war, for feudal princes frequently visited each other. The rule was that "the Emperor can never go out," i.e. he can never leave or quit any part of China, for all China belongs to him. It is like our "the King can do no wrong."
The Emperor could thus neither leave nor enter his own particular territory, as all his vassals' territory is equally his. Hence his "mere motion" or pleasure makes an Empress, who needs no formal reception into his separate appanage by him. If the Emperor gives a daughter or a sister in marriage, he deputes a ruling prince of the Ki surname to "manage" the affair; hence to this day the only name for an imperial princess is "a publicly managed one." A feudal prince must go and welcome his wife, but the Emperor simply deputes one of his appanage dukes to do it for him. In the same way, these dukes are sent on mission to convey the Emperor's pleasure to vassals. Thus, in 651 B.C., a duke was sent by the Emperor to assist Ts'in and Ts'i in setting one of the four Tartar-begotten brethren on the Tsin throne (see Chapter X.). In 649 two dukes (one being the hereditary Duke of Shao, supposed to be descended from the same ancestor as the Earl reigning in the distant state of Yen) were sent to confer the formal patent and sceptre of investiture on Tsin. The rule was that imperial envoys passing through the vassal territory should be welcomed on the frontier, fed, and housed; but in 716 the fact that Wei attacked an imperial envoy on his way to Lu proves how low the imperial power had already sunk.