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A History of China by Wolfram Eberhard

Who had not been sinified in the slightest


The

dominant element at this time was quite clearly the Chinese gentry, especially in western and central China. The Sha-t'o themselves must have been extraordinarily few in number, probably little more than 100,000 men. Most of them, moreover, were politically passive, being simple soldiers. Only the ruling family and its following played any active part, together with a few families related to it by marriage. The whole state was regarded by the Sha-t'o rulers as a sort of family enterprise, members of the family being placed in the most important positions. As there were not enough of them, they adopted into the family large numbers of aliens of all nationalities. Military posts were given to faithful members of Li K'o-yung's or his successor's bodyguard, and also to domestic servants and other clients of the family. Thus, while in the Later Liang state elements from the peasantry had risen in the world, some of these neo-gentry reaching the top of the social pyramid in the centuries that followed, in the Sha-t'o state some of its warriors, drawn from the most various peoples, entered the gentry class through their personal relations with the ruler. But in spite of all this the bulk of the officials came once more from the Chinese. These educated Chinese not only succeeded in winning over the rulers themselves to the Chinese cultural ideal, but persuaded them to adopt laws that substantially restricted the privileges of the Sha-t'o and brought advantages only to the Chinese gentry.
Consequently all the Chinese historians are enthusiastic about the "Later T'ang", and especially about the emperor Ming Ti, who reigned from 927 onward, after the assassination of his predecessor. They also abused the Liang because they were against the gentry.

In 936 the Later T'ang dynasty gave place to the Later Chin dynasty (936-946), but this involved no change in the structure of the empire. The change of dynasty meant no more than that instead of the son following the father the son-in-law had ascended the throne. It was of more importance that the son-in-law, the Sha-t'o Turk Shih Ching-t'ang, succeeded in doing this by allying himself with the Kitan and ceding to them some of the northern provinces. The youthful successor, however, of the first ruler of this dynasty was soon made to realize that the Kitan regarded the founding of his dynasty as no more than a transition stage on the way to their annexation of the whole of North China. The old Sha-t'o nobles, who had not been sinified in the slightest, suggested a preventive war; the actual court group, strongly sinified, hesitated, but ultimately were unable to avoid war. The war was very quickly decided by several governors in eastern China going over to the Kitan, who had promised them the imperial title. In the course of 946-7 the Kitan occupied the capital and almost the whole of the country. In 947 the Kitan ruler proclaimed himself emperor of the Kitan and the Chinese.

[Illustration: Map 6: The State of the later T'ang dynasty]

The Chinese gentry seem to have accepted this situation because a Kitan emperor was just as acceptable to them as a Sha-t'o emperor; but the Sha-t'o were not prepared to submit to the Kitan regime, because under it they would have lost their position of privilege. At the head of this opposition group stood the Sha-t'o general Liu Chih-yuan, who founded the "Later Han dynasty" (947-950). He was able to hold out against the Kitan only because in 947 the Kitan emperor died and his son had to leave China and retreat to the north; fighting had broken out between the empress dowager, who had some Chinese support, and the young heir to the throne. The new Turkish dynasty, however, was unable to withstand the internal Chinese resistance. Its founder died in 948, and his son, owing to his youth, was entirely in the hands of a court clique. In his effort to free himself from the tutelage of this group he made a miscalculation, for the men on whom he thought he could depend were largely supporters of the clique. So he lost his throne and his life, and a Chinese general, Kuo Wei, took his place, founding the "Later Chou dynasty" (951-959).


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