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A History of China by Wolfram Eberhard

And a reorganization of the Confucian examination system


an old soldier who had long been a subject of the Toba, Wen Ti had no great understanding of theory: he was a practical man. He was anti-intellectual and emotionally attached to Buddhism; he opposed Confucianism for emotional reasons and believed that it could give him no serviceable officials of the sort he wanted. He demanded from his officials the same obedience and sense of duty as from his soldiers; and he was above all thrifty, almost miserly, because he realized that the finances of his state could only be brought into order by the greatest exertions. The budget had to be drawn up for the vast territory of the empire without any possibility of saying in advance whether the revenues would come in and whether the transport of dues to the capital would function.

This cautious calculation was entirely justified, but it aroused great opposition. Both east and south were used to a much better style of living; yet the gentry of both regions were now required to cut down their consumption. On top of this they were excluded from the conduct of political affairs. In the past, under the Northern Ch'i empire in the north-east and under the Ch'en empire in the south, there had been thousands of positions at court in which the whole of the gentry could find accommodation of some kind. Now the central government was far in the west, and other people were its administrators. In the past the gentry had a profitable and easily accessible market for their

produce in the neighbouring capital; now the capital was far away, entailing long-distance transport at heavy risk with little profit.

The dissatisfied circles of the gentry in the north-east and in the south incited Prince Kuang to rebellion. The prince and his followers murdered the emperor and set aside the heir-apparent; and Kuang came to the throne, assuming the name of Yang Ti. His first act was to transfer the capital back to the east, to Loyang, close to the grain-producing regions. His second achievement was to order the construction of great canals, to facilitate the transport of grain to the capital and to provide a valuable new market for the producers in the north-east and the south. It was at this time that the first forerunner of the famous "Imperial Canal" was constructed, the canal that connects the Yangtze with the Yellow River. Small canals, connecting various streams, had long been in existence, so that it was possible to travel from north to south by water, but these canals were not deep enough or broad enough to take large freight barges. There are records of lighters of 500 and even 800 tons capacity! These are dimensions unheard of in the West in those times. In addition to a serviceable canal to the south, Yang Ti made another that went north almost to the present Peking.

Hand in hand with these successes of the north-eastern and southern gentry went strong support for Confucianism, and a reorganization of the Confucian examination system. As a rule, however, the examinations were circumvented as an unimportant formality; the various governors were ordered each to send annually to the capital three men with the required education, for whose quality they were held personally responsible; merchants and artisans were expressly excluded.

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