CHAPTER XXXV. KNOWLEDGE OF THE WEST

The question of the expedition of the Emperor Muh to the West in the year 984 B.C., or during that year and the two following, is worthy of further consideration for many reasons; and after all that has been said about the rise of the Chou dynasty, the decay of the patriarchal system, the emulous ambitions of the vassals, the destruction of the feudal Empire, and the substitution of a centralized administration under a new dynasty of numbered August Emperors, it will now be comparatively easier to understand.

We have seen that, if any local annals besides those of Lu have been in part preserved, those of Ts'in at least were deliberately intended by the First August Emperor to be wholly preserved, and must therefore hold first rank among all the restored vassal annals published by Sz-ma Ts'ien in or about 90 B.C.; and it must be remembered that the original Lu annals have perished equally with those of Ts'i, Sung, and other important states; it is only Confucius' "Springs and Autumns," - evidently composed from the Lu archives, - that have survived. Well, the Ts'in Annals, as given by Sz-ma Ts'ien, record that one of the early Ts'in ancestors "was in favour with the Emperor Muh on account of his admirable skill in manipulating horses" [names of four particularly fine horses given]. The Emperor "went west to examine his fiefs"; he was so "charmed with his experiences that he forgot the administrative duties which should have called him back." Meanwhile, a revolt broke out in East (uncivilized) China, and the manipulator of horses was sent by the Emperor back to China at express speed, in order to stave off trouble till the Emperor could get back himself. It is also stated of him that, in spite of remonstrances, he made extensive war upon the Tartars, and that, in consequence, his uncivilized vassals ceased to present themselves at court. No other mention is made of this expedition by Sz-ma Ts'ien in the imperial annals, and, so (apart from the fictitious importance afterwards given to the expedition, and especially by European investigators in quite recent times), there is really no reason to attach any more political weight to it than to the other innumerable exploring expeditions of emperors into the almost unknown regions surrounding the nucleus of orthodox China so often defined in these chapters. We have already (page 184) cited the case in which the father and predecessor of King Muh had ventured on a tour of inspection as far as modern Hankow on the Yang-tsz River, or, as some say, as far as some place on the River Han, where he was murdered; in 656 the First Protector raked up this affair against Ts'u, whose capital was very near King-thou Fu, above Hankow. Finally, scant though Sz-ma Ts'ien's two references to this affair may be, they at least agree with each other, i.e. the Emperor did actually go to Tartar regions, and a revolt of non-Chinese tribes did actually break out in the immediate sequel.

But in A.D. 281 a certain tomb at a place once belonging to Wei, but later attached to the kingdom of Ngwei formerly part of Tsin, was desecrated by thieves, and, amongst other books written in ancient characters found therein (unfortunately all more or less injured by the rummaging thieves), were two of paramount interest. One was an account of, and was entirely devoted to, the Emperor Muh's voyage to the West; the other was the Annals of Ngwei (i.e. of that third part of old Tsin which in 403 B.C. was formally recognized by the Emperor as the separate state of Ngwei), including those of old Tsin, and also what may be termed the general history of China, narrated incidentally. These Annals of Tsin or Ngwei are usually styled the Bamboo Books, because they were written in ink on bamboo tablets strung together at one end like a fan or a narrow Venetian blind. They also speak shortly of the Emperor Muh's expedition, and thus they also are useful for comparing hiatuses, names, faults, and dates; both in general history, and in the account of King Muh's expedition. Since the discovery of these old documents (which had been buried for well- nigh 600 years, and of which no other record whatever had been preserved either in writing or by tradition), Chinese literary wonder-mongers have exercised their wits upon the task of identifying the unheard-of places mentioned; the more so in that one place, and one king bearing the same foreign name as the place - Siwangmu - was so written phonetically that it might mean "Western-King-Mother." They endeavoured to show how this and other places might have lain in relation to the genuine places discovered by Chinese generals after these ancient documents were buried, seven centuries after the events recorded therein. Then came the foreigner with his Jewish Creation, Confusion of Tongues, Accadian and Babylonian origin of all science, etc., etc. Of course Marco Polo's adventures at once suggested to the European, thus biased, that 3000 years ago the Emperor Muhmight have found his way to Persia, and might have been this or that Babylonian, Egyptian, or Persian hero; in fact, Professor Forke of Berlin even takes his Chinese majesty as far as Africa, and introduces him to the Queen of Sheba (= Western-King-Mother).

The distinguished Professor Edouard Chavannes of Paris has recently attempted to show, not only that the Emperor Muh never got beyond the Tarim (which, indeed, is absolutely certain from the text itself), but that it was not the Emperor Muh at all who went, but the semi-Turkish Duke Muh of Ts'in, in the seventh century B.C., who made the expedition.