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As China has now fairly taken her place in the family of nations it is unnecessary to elaborate an argument in support of even the humblest attempt to elucidate her history. It is a subject to which we can no longer remain indifferent, because circumstances are bringing every day more clearly into view the important part China must play in the changes that have become imminent in Asia, and that will affect the security of our position and Empire in that continent. A good understanding with China should be the first article of our Eastern policy, for not only in Central Asia, but also in Indo-China where French ambition threatens to create a fresh Egypt, her interests coincide with ours and furnish the sound basis of a fruitful alliance.
This book, which I may be pardoned for saying is not an abridgment of my original work, but entirely re-written and rearranged with the view of giving prominence to the modern history of the Chinese Empire, may appeal, although they generally treat Asiatic subjects with regrettable indifference, to that wider circle of English readers on whose opinion and efforts the development of our political and commercial relations with the greatest of Oriental States will mainly depend. To the strictly historical narrative I have, at the suggestion of several competent authorities, added, by the courteous permission of the Times, the description I wrote in 1889 for that paper of the mode in which China is Governed.
D. C BOULGER.
28th April, 1893.
This Edition is printed from the stereotype plates of the book as issued by Messrs. W. H. Allen in 1893, and, the services of the Author not being available, a synopsis of the history of the past ten years has been written by a competent authority.
HISTORY OF CHINA.
THE EARLY AGES.
The Chinese are unquestionably the oldest nation in the world, and their history goes back to a period to which no prudent historian will attempt to give a precise date. They speak the language and observe the same social and political customs that they did several thousand years before the Christian era, and they are the only living representatives to-day of a people and government which were contemporary with the Egyptians, the Assyrians, and the Jews. So far as our knowledge enables us to speak, the Chinese of the present age are in all essential points identical with those of the time of Confucius, and there is no reason to doubt that be fore his time the Chinese national character had been thoroughly formed in its present mould. The limits of the Empire have varied from time to time under circumstances of triumph or disunion, but the Middle Kingdom, or China Proper, of the eighteen provinces has always possessed more or less of its existing proportions. Another striking and peculiar feature about China is the small amount of influence that the rest of the world has exercised upon it. In fact it is only during the present century that that influence can be said to have existed at all. Up to that point China had pursued a course of her own, carrying on her own struggles within a definite limit, and completely indifferent to, and ignorant of, the ceaseless competition and contests of mankind outside her orbit, which make up the history of the rest of the old world. The long struggles for supremacy in Western Asia between Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian, the triumphs of the Greek, followed by the absorption of what remained of the Macedonian conquests in the Empire of Rome, even the appearance of Islam and the Mahomedan conquerors, who changed the face of Southern Asia from the Ganges to the Levant, and long threatened to overrun Europe, had no significance for the people of China, and reacted as little on their destiny as if they had happened in another planet. Whatever advantages the Chinese may have derived from this isolation, it has entailed the penalty that the early history of their country is devoid of interest for the rest of the world, and it is only when the long independent courses of China and Europe are brought into proximity by the Mongol conquests, the efforts of the mediæval travellers, the development of commerce, and the wars carried on for the purpose of obtaining a secure position for foreigners in China--four distinct phases covering the last
seven centuries,-that any confidence can be felt in successfully attracting notice to the affairs of China. Yet, as a curiosity in human existence, the earlier history of that country may justly receive some notice. Even though the details are not recited the recollection of the antiquity of China's institutions must be ever present with the student, as affording an indispensable clue to the character of the Chinese people and the composition of their government.
The first Chinese are supposed to have been a nomad tribe in the province of Shensi which lies in the north-west of China, and among them at last appeared a ruler, Fohi, whose name at least has been preserved. His deeds and his person are mythical, but he is credited with having given his country its first regular institutions. One of his successors was Hwangti (which means Heavenly Emperor), who was the first to employ the imperial style of Emperor, the earlier rulers having been content with the inferior title of Wang, or prince. He adopted the convenient decimal division in his administration as well as his coinage. His dominions were divided into ten provinces, each of these into ten departments, these again into ten districts, each of which held ten towns. He regulated the calendar, originating the Chinese cycle of sixty years, and he encouraged commerce. He seems to have been a wise prince and to have been the first of the great Emperors. His grandson, who was also Emperor, continued his good work and earned the reputation of being “the restorer or even founder of true astronomy.”
But the most famous of Hwangti's successors was his great grandson Yao, who is still one of the most revered of all Chinese rulers. He was “diligent, enlightened, polished, and prudent,” and if his words reflected his actions he must have been most solicitous of the welfare of his people. He is specially remarkable for his anxiety to discover the best man to succeed him in the government, and during the last twenty-eight years of his reign he associated the minister Chun with him for that purpose. On his death he left the crown to him, and Chun, after some hesitation, accepted the charge, but he in turn hastened to secure the co-operation of another minister named Yu in the work of administration, just as he had been associated with Yao. The period covered by the rule of this triumvirate is considered one of the most brilliant and perfect in Chinese history, and it bears a resemblance to the age of the Antonines. These rulers seem to have passed their leisure from practical work in framing moral axioms, and in carrying out a model scheme of government based on the purest ethics. They considered that “a prince entrusted with the charge of a State has a heavy task. The happiness of his subjects absolutely depends upon him. To provide for everything is his duty : his ministers are only put in office to assist him," and also that “a prince who wishes to fulfil his obligations, and to long preserve his people in the ways of peace, ought to watch without ceasing that the laws are observed with exactitude." They were staunch upholders of temperance, and they banished the unlucky discoverer of the fact that an intoxicating drink could be obtained from rice. They also held fast to the theory that all govern. ment must be based on the popular will. In fact the reigns of Yao, Chun, and Yu are the ideal period of Chinese history when all questions were de cided by moral right and justice, and even now Chinese philosophers are said to test their maxims of morality by the degree of agreement they may have with the conduct of those rulers.