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A History of China by Wolfram Eberhard

Consolidation of the gentry Kao Tsu died in 195 B


the extreme south, around the present-day Canton, another independent empire had been formed in the years of transition, under the leadership of a Chinese. The narrow basis of this realm was no doubt provided by the trading colonies, but the indigenous population of Yueeh tribes was insufficiently civilized for the building up of a state that could have maintained itself against China. Kao Tsu sent a diplomatic mission to the ruler of this state, and invited him to place himself under Chinese suzerainty (196 B.C.). The ruler realized that he could offer no serious resistance, while the existing circumstances guaranteed him virtual independence and he yielded to Kao Tsu without a struggle.

3 _Brief feudal reaction. Consolidation of the gentry_

Kao Tsu died in 195 B.C. From then to 179 the actual ruler was his widow, the empress Lue, while children were officially styled emperors. The empress tried to remove all the representatives of the emperor's family and to replace them with members of her own family. To secure her position she revived the feudal system, but she met with strong resistance from the dynasty and its supporters who already belonged in many cases to the new gentry, and who did not want to find their position jeopardized by the creation of new feudal lords.

On the death of the empress her opponents rose, under the leadership of Kao Tsu's family. Every member of

the empress's family was exterminated, and a son of Kao Tsu, known later under the name of Wen Ti (Emperor Wen), came to the throne. He reigned from 179 to 157 B.C. Under him there were still many fiefs, but with the limitation which the emperor Kao Tsu had laid down shortly before his death: only members of the imperial family should receive fiefs, to which the title of King was attached. Thus all the more important fiefs were in the hands of the imperial family, though this did not mean that rivalries came to an end.

On the whole Wen Ti's period of rule passed in comparative peace. For the first time since the beginning of Chinese history, great areas of continuous territory were under unified rule, without unending internal warfare such as had existed under Shih Huang-ti and Kao Tsu. The creation of so extensive a region of peace produced great economic advance. The burdens that had lain on the peasant population were reduced, especially since under Wen Ti the court was very frugal. The population grew and cultivated fresh land, so that production increased and with it the exchange of goods. The most outstanding sign of this was the abandonment of restrictions on the minting of copper coin, in order to prevent deflation through insufficiency of payment media. As a consequence more taxes were brought in, partly in kind, partly in coin, and this increased the power of the central government. The new gentry streamed into the towns, their standard of living rose, and they made themselves more and more into a class apart from the general population. As people free from material cares, they were able to devote themselves to scholarship. They went back to the old writings and studied them once more. They even began to identify themselves with the nobles of feudal times, to adopt the rules of good behaviour and the ceremonial described in the Confucianist books, and very gradually, as time went on, to make these their textbooks of good form. From this point the Confucianist ideals first began to penetrate the official class recruited from the gentry, and then the state organization itself. It was expected that an official should be versed in Confucianism, and schools were set up for Confucianist education. Around 100 B.C. this led to the introduction of the examination system, which gradually became the one method of selection of new officials. The system underwent many changes, but remained in operation in principle until 1904. The object of the examinations was not to test job efficiency but command of the ideals of the gentry and knowledge of the literature inculcating them: this was regarded as sufficient qualification for any position in the service of the state.

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