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 Struggle Between Restoration and Counter-Restoration In the Course of Founding the Chin Dynasty

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Struggle Between Restoration and Counter-Restoration In the Course of Founding the Chin Dynasty

--In relation to social basis of polemics between the Confucian and Legalist schools

by Lo Ssu-ting


   THE Chin Dynasty (221-206 B.C.) was the first feudal dynasty in Chinese history. The feudal unity established by Chin Shih Huang (259-210 B.C.) and the series of political measures he took could not simply be attributed to accidental reasons. They were the inevitable result of social historical development at that time.
   In On Contradiction, Chairman Mao pointed out that in studying the process of the movement of opposites in the development of a thing, "each stage in the process has its particular features" to which we must pay attention. The transition from the slave system to the feudal system in the State of Chin, one of the ducal slates in the Chou Dynasty, began with Duke Hsiao*, was accomplished by Chin Shih Huang and extended through the reign of seven Chin rulers. This 150-year period was fraught with sharp struggles between reform and counter-reform and between restoration and counter-restoration. By adapting himself to the trend of social development that determined the substitution of feudalism for slavery, Chin Shih Huang was able to accomplish the transition from slavery to feudalism in the State of Chin, conquer the independent ducal states and unify China, thereby founding the first unified feudal dynasty in Chinese history.
   After it replaced the Chin Dynasty, the Han Dynasty followed the system founded by Chin. This showed that the feudal social system of the landlord class dictatorship initiated by the Chin Dynasty could not be turned back. In studying the history of feudal society in China and criticizing the thinking of revering the Confucian school and opposing the Legalist school, it is necessary to have a clear understanding of the social basis of the contention between the Confucian and Legalist schools and Chin Shih Huang's historical role. For a correct understanding of these two things, it is necessary to have a clear idea of the history of the struggle between restoration and counter-restoration in the 150 years from Duke Hsiao to Chin Shih Huang and the distinctive features of each stage in this period.

I

   The reform carried out by Shang Yang during the reign of Duke Hsiao of Chin marked the turning point in history when feudalism was replacing slavery in the State of Chin.
   Shang Yang's reform reflected the trend of social historical development at that time. As early as the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 B.C.), the slaves waged successive struggles against the slave-owners' enslavement and oppression, and this propelled the change in land ownership. In 594 B.C. the State of Lu started adopting the system of collecting a tax on private land. Recognition of private ownership of land made a big breach in the economy of the slave system. By the early years of the Warring States Period (475-221 B.C.), the transition from slavery to feudalism had taken place to varying degrees in the various ducal states on the central plain. During the Spring and Autumn Period and the Warring States Period slave resistance was very sharp in the State of Chin and the famous big slave uprising led by Chih occurred there. According to Chuang Tzu**, Chih led "nine thousand followers, fighting in many places and attacking the slave-owning aristocrats." This was a heavy blow to the slave-owning aristocrats' rule in Chin.
   The State of Chin started levying a tax in grain from private land in 408 B.C., which meant legal recognition of the landlord class in the state. In 384 B.C., Chin began abolishing the cruel system of burying the living with the dead — a slave system practice. The development of new feudal relations of production and the growth in strength of the new emerging landlord class required corresponding political recognition. An agent of the landlord class, Duke Hsiao was eager to "rule through reform." Once he assumed power, he issued an order saying: "I will honour the guests and ministers who offer excellent plans to make Chin powerful with high office and fiefs."
   What political line was Chin to uphold in carrying out the reform? Because Chin was located in Yungchow***, a remote area, and could not take part in the "conferences and agreements" of the states on the central plain, the rule of the slave-owning class was relatively weak in the ideological realm and that class lacked a complete ideological system. The influence of the Confucian school was far less strong and widespread in Chin than in the other states on the central plain. Therefore, one of the rulers of Chin frankly admitted that a political line contrary to Confucius' thought should be adopted: "In the present struggle among ducat states what we should stress is only the army and grain. If we use benevolence and righteousness to rule our state, that will lead to its doom." Using what Confucius preached would spell the end of a state — this summed up the historical experience at that time.
   Shang Yang, whose original name was Kungsung Yang, was a native of the State of Wei and a Legalist who stood for reform through enacting new laws and opposed a return to the old order and retrogression. He moved from Wei to Chin where he was welcomed by the new emerging landlord class but was opposed by the declining slave-owning class.
   There was a big contention in the Chin court at the time. Political representatives of the old aristocrats in the state were trying to transform Chin according to the line of the Confucian school, saying that "adopting the ancient ways commits no mistakes, following the rites ensures no heretic deviations." They did all they could to uphold the slave system's rule of "rites." Shang Yang refuted this traditional idea of the slave-owners by calling it a "vulgar concept" and spared no effort to advocate reform.
   In this heated contention between the landlord class reformers and the slave-owning aristocracy conservatives, Duke Hsiao firmly supported what Shang Yang advocated and affirmed the line of reform. Beginning from 356 B.C., the latter carried out drastic changes by introducing a series of reform measures. These included "eliminating the paths and earthen banks that formed farmland borders," encouraging the landlords to reclaim wasteland, developing farming, abolishing the old aristocracy's hereditary privileges, popularizing the law which grouped every five or ten families into a basic community and held them collectively responsible for the crimes of any family in the community, dividing the state into counties as administrative units and unifying weights and measures.
   Proceeding from the standpoint of upholding the interests of the landlord class, Shang Yang strongly advocated devoting more effort to farming and weaving and considered that "the prosperity of a state depends on farming and war." His reform specially stipulated that "those who work hard at farming and weaving and produce more grain and silk" could be exempted from taxes and corvee service, and that "those who engage in commerce and those who become poor through laziness” should be made, together with their wives, official slaves. The adoption of this policy which stressed farming and restricted commerce was favourable to the growth in strength of the new emerging landlord class and dealt a heavy blow to the power of the handicraft and commercial slave-owners.
   Shang Yang's reform was a profound social change which inevitably came up against stubborn resistance from the reactionary forces represented by the old aristocrats. When Shang Yang carried out his reform, "a thousand persons considered the initial orders inconvenient" in the capital of Chin and "many members of the ruling house grumbled." The aristocratic slave-owners were terrified and angry, "nursing more hatred for Shang Yang's laws than for their adversaries in private feuds."
   Rallying under the banner of Lord Chien, they incited the crown prince to "violate the law" and did all they could to prevent the reform from being carried out. Confronted with the situation in which "resistance to law enforcement came from members of the ruling house," Shang Yang, with support from Duke Hsiao, struck hard at the slave-owning clique in the ruling house. Shang Yang killed more than 700 members of the old aristocracy on the bank of the Weishui River near Hsienyang and this safeguarded and consolidated the new feudal system. It was recorded that after the new laws "had been enforced for ten years, the people of Chin were very happy," "the rule of order prevailed in town and countryside," and even women and children "knew Shang Yang's laws."
   Badly defeated, the slave-owning clique of the Chin ruling house turned to underground activities. Though Lord Chien shut himself behind closed doors for eight years, he conspired day and night for a restoration. Since Shang Yang was a political representative of the landlord class, he could not rid himself of its limitations and weaknesses. He realized the grave nature of the struggle, but it was beyond him to rely on the people. He did not even take full account of the strength of the landlord class and mobilize it on a wide scale. His line was to make reforms from above. And with the death of Duke Hsiao, Shang Yang's reform could no longer be carried on. Especially after the crown prince who had always sided with the old aristocracy took over power and became Prince Hui of Chin, the forces of restoration headed by Lord Chien immediately counter-attacked to settle scores and "accused Shang Yang of being guilty of attempting a rebellion." In 338 B.C. the aristocratic slave-owners cruelly killed Shang Yang by "dismemberment by chariots."
   The adverse current of restoration ruled Chin for a time after his death. Prince Hui followed an entirely different political line from that of Shang Yang, rejecting the Legalists and relying on the old aristocrats. His brother-in-law Wei Jan became an "elder statesman" serving him and the two succeeding rulers in Chin. Economically, Wei Jan was "richer than the ruling house" and politically his "power covered the entire State of Chin." Persecuting the Legalists mercilessly, he branded all the counsellors of the landlord class coming from the States of Han, Chao and Wei as persons "merely making trouble in a state." This fully revealed the reactionary nature of the class of aristocratic slave owners.
   At the same time an adverse current against the Legalist school also appeared in the states on the central plain. Shang Yang's reform shook the economic base of the slave-owning class to its foundations, striking terror and fear into the slave-owners of various states. In their opinion, Chin was a "wolfish state" which "did not know propriety and righteousness" and "preferred benefits at the expense of faith." Mencius (390-305 B.C.) of the Confucian school stood in the van of the attack on the Legalist school. The Confucian school at the time represented an extremely reactionary ideological trend and school of thought. Its founder Confucius was a diehard spokesman of the declining slave-owning class who all his life went everywhere to uphold the rule of the slave system.
   Inheriting Confucius' reactionary cause, Mencius openly opposed the abolition of the slave-owning aristocrats' hereditary privileges and shouted that their interests should not be encroached on. He slandered the Legalists as "robbers of the people” who should be severely suppressed. By eliminating the old farmland and land boundaries, Shang Yang had abolished the land ownership of the slave-owners. Mencius talked a great deal about "benevolent rule which must begin with the restoration of former land boundaries" in his vain efforts to restore the already disintegrating nine squares (ching tien) land system. Shang Yang stood for the rule of "law," while Mencius preached the "kingly way" and "benevolence and righteousness." The political and economic stand of Mencius was a reaction to Shang Yang's reform and completely suited the needs of the aristocratic slave-owners in bringing about a restoration.
   However, the inevitable replacement of the slave system by the feudal system was a law of historical development independent of man's will. All the activities for restoration by reactionaries in and outside the State of Chin could not change the general trend of historical development. After the abolition of the nine squares land system in Chin, the establishment and development of feudal private ownership of land became an irreversible tide. During the reign of Prince Chao****, agriculture flourished not only in the Kuanchung area (more or less present-day Shensi Province) of Chin but even in the Chin's outlying Shu area (present-day western Szechuan Province) which was known as a "heavenly endowed place" with a "vast expanse of fertile land." All this showed that the breaking of the fetters imposed by the old land ownership system of the slave-owners inevitably resulted in the prosperity of the new landlord economy.
   As this new economy made further advances, the' new emerging landlord class became increasingly discontented with its lack of power in the political field and strove to establish a rule that was in conformity with the economic base. Thus its struggle against the class of aristocratic slave-owners entered a new stage. If we say that the struggle during Shang Yang's reform revolved mainly around the question of land ownership, then with the basic solution of this question the struggle between the two classes gradually focused on the question of political power.
   During Prince Chao's reign, power was mainly in the hands of a few people like Wei Jan, and some "private houses were richer than the ruling house."; In order to seize back his lost power, Prince Chao began to have a common language with the new emerging landlord class. He gradually inclined to the Legalist school and realized that "the Confucian scholars could not bring any benefits to a state."
   Under these circumstances, Fan Sui*****, a noted representative of the Legalist school, came to Chin from the State of Wei. In his memorial to Prince Chao, he said: "Your humble subject heard that when a wise ruler is governing, he must reward those who render meritorious service and appoint the capable to official posts. Those who work hard get bigger emoluments, those who render more meritorious service enjoy superior rank, and those who can govern a larger number of people become higher officials."
   Diametrically opposed to the concept of a ruler sharing power with the aristocrats as advocated by the Confucianists, Fan Sui advanced the Legalist concept of establishing a centralized feudal state. He advised Prince Chao that only by strengthening the centralization of authority could a ruler's absolute position be ensured. On the question of wiping out the ducal states, Fan Sui criticized the former policy of "attacking the distant states and keeping friendly relations with nearby states" and put forward the policy of "keeping friendly relations with distant states and attacking the nearby states." Prince Chao approved Fan Sui's line and appointed "Fan Sui guest minister counselling on military affairs.”
   With Fan Sui in his service, Prince Chao won victory after victory in his war to unify China and this strengthened the position of the landlord class he represented. On this basis, the prince expelled Wei Jan and a handful of other old aristocrats from Chin and made Fan Sui prime minister. Thereafter, the new emerging landlord class once again prevailed in the Chin political structure.
   Although Fan Sui became prime minister, he was actually sitting on top of a volcano that could erupt at any time. The influence of the old aristocrats at the time was still quite powerful in Chin. Against such a background of class struggle, Fan Sui wavered and "asked to return the seal of prime minister because of illness" in 256 B.C. His successor Tsai Tse (a native of the State of Yen who succeeded Fan Sui as prime minister of Chin in 256 B.C. — tr.) was in office for only several months and voluntarily resigned for fear of attacks by the aristocratic slave-owning clique. The stepping down of Fan Sui and Tsai Tse showed that they dared not carry the cause of reform through to the end because of the need to protect their own lives and their families. It also profoundly explained that after the landlord class seized political power in the State of Chin, serious struggles between restoration and counter-restoration still existed.

(To be continued.)

*Duke Hsiao (381-338 B,C.) of Chin ruled from 362 to331) B.C.
**Chuang Tzu, an ancient Chinese philosophical work of the Taoist school, mainly contains the writings of the idealist philosopher Chuang Chou (c. 309-286 B.C.) and his later followers. Chuang Chou was a native of the State-of Sung (the present-day Shangchiu area in eastern Honan Province) in the Warring States Period.
*** Yungchow embraced the central part of present-day Shensi Province and the southeastern part of what today is Kansu Province.
**** Prince Chao (324-251 B.C.J of Chin ruled from 307 to251 B.C.
***** Fan Sui, a native of the State of Wei, was prime minister of Chin from 266 to 256 B.C.
  
  
  

 
 
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