Sunday, August 24, 2008

Ancient China Ethics

, but so much is apt to be made out of slight historical materials-such, for instance, as the pleasure expedition of a Chinese emperor in 984 B.C. to the Tarim Valley-- that it may be useful to suggest the true proportions, and the modest possible bearing of this "Japanese" migration--assuming the slender record of it to be true; and the basis of truth is by no means a broad one; still less is it capable of sustaining a heavy superstructure.
Any one visiting Japan will notice that there are several distinct types of men in that country, the squat and vulgar, the oval-faced and refined, and many variations of these two; just as, in England, we have the Norman, Saxon, Irish, and Scotch types of face, with many other nuances. It is also clear from the kitchen-midden and other prehistoric remains; from the presence, even now, in Japan of the bearded Ainus ; and from the numerous accounts of Ainu- Japanese wars in both Chinese and Japanese history, that there were manners, and possibly yet other men, in ancient Japan, both very different from the manners and appearance of the cultured and gifted race, viewed as a homogeneous whole, we are now so proud to have as our political allies. But that brings us no nearer a historical solution, It is a persistent way with all ethnologists to search out whence this or that race came. Of course all races move and mingle, and must always have moved and mingled, when by so doing they could better their circumstances of life; but even if movement has taken place in Japan as it has elsewhere, there is no reason why, if comparatively uncivilized Japanese displaced Ainus, Ainus should not have, before that, displaced quite uncivilized Japanese; or, if other races came over the seas to displace the people already there, the natives already there should not have, later on, ejected these new-comers by sea routes.
In other words, it is quite futile to try and account for hypothetical movements in prehistoric times. We are totally ignorant of early Teutonic, Hungarian, and Celtic movements-though, thanks solely to Chinese records, we are pretty certain, within defined limits, about early Turkish movements. How much more, then, must we be ignorant about the Japanese movements? If "people" must have come from somewhere, whence did these arrivals start, and why should they not go back; or why not meet other movers going to the place whence they themselves started? If we are to accept the only historical records or quasi-records we possess at all, that is, the Chinese records, then we must accept them for what they are worth on the face of them, and neither add to nor mutilate them; imperfect things that do exist are necessarily better than imaginary things that might have existed in their place. A few hundred families at most, we are told, escaped; and if it be true that they went intentionally to Japan, it is probable that the expert Wu sailors had already for long known the way thither, or to Quelpaert and Tsushima, which practically means to both Corea and Japan; in fact, if they sailed east from Ningpo, there is no other place to knock up against, even if the special intention were not there. Everything tends to show that Fu-ch'ai, though perhaps a barbarian in 473 B.C., was of orthodox if remote pedigree dating from 1200 B.C., and that the ruling class of Wu was very different from the "barbarians" by whom Wu was surrounded; the situation was like that of the Egyptians and Phoenicians, like Cecrops and Cadmus, amongst the earliest barbarous Greeks. It amounts, then, to this, that, just as Chinese colonies and adventurers emerged under the stress of increased population, or under the impulses of curiosity, tyranny, and ambition, to found states in Ts'u, Ts'in, Tsin, Ts'i, Lu, Wu, Yüeh, and other places round the central nucleus, so other parties would from time to time sally forth either from the same orthodox centre, or from the semi-orthodox places surrounding that centre, to still remoter spots, such as, for instance, Corea, Japan, Formosa, Annam, Burma, Tibet, and Yiin Nan. Fu-ch'ai's surviving friends had indeed a very lively stimulus indeed-the fear of instant death-to drive them tumultuously over the seas; and doubtless, as they must have been perfectly harmless after tossing about hungry in open boats for weeks together, they would be as welcome to the Japanese king, or to the petty chief or chiefs who received the waifs, as in our own times was the honest sailor Will Adams when he drifted friendless to Japan, and whose statue now adorns a great Japanese city as that of a man who was, in a humble way, also a "civilizer" of Japan . Doubtless, many Wu words, or Chinese words as then pronounced in Wu, had already been brought over by fishermen; but here at last was a great haul of books and the way to interpret them; at least there was a great haul of the best class of the Wu ruling folk. It is true that the first Japanese envoys who came to China made as much of their Wu "origin" as they could; firstly, because it probably paid them as traders to do so; secondly, because it necessarily gave them a respectable status in China; and, thirdly, because they were, in the first century of our era, gradually beginning to understand the mystic power of the Chinese written character, and they would therefore naturally take an intense interest in all records, rumours, traditions, and fables about themselves, which they would embellish and "confirm" whenever it suited their interests to do so. Which of us does not begin to furbish up his pedigree when he is made a peer of the realm?
As to the bulk of the Japanese race, be it mixed or unmixed, it is surely in the main to be found now where it always was, or close by? It is no more depreciating to early Japan to give her a dynasty of Chinese adventurers, or perhaps to give her only hereditary Chinese advisers and scribes, than it is derogatory to the states of Europe to possess dynasties which belong by their origin, as a general rule, to almost any place but the countries they now govern as sovereigns. As to the ancient chiefs or kings of Japan, some of their genuine native names may have been preserved in the memories of men; whether they were or not, they were, even without records, as "ancient" chiefs as the best recorded chiefs of Egypt, Babylonia, or China; and it must be remembered that Egyptian and Babylonian records were non-existent to us for all practical purposes during many thousands of years, until we recently discovered how to read them: that is to say, what was once no history at all--the present condition of the prehistoric races of High Asia--suddenly becomes history when we find the records and know how to read them.
When, a few centuries later on, the Japanese had begun thoroughly to understand Chinese books, they decided to have an historical outfit of their own; they took what vague traditions they had, and, in the absence of any long-forgotten genuine records, or visible remains having part of the effect of records, simply fitted on to their heroes, real or imaginary, the Chinese posthumous system, and a selection of the historical facts recorded about the Chinese. Even the Emperor Muh in China was not so named until he died. If a man can be given a complimentary title three years after death , why not give it him 300 years after his death? The king or chief hitherto known, whether accurately or not, whether honestly or not, as X, had most certainly existed; that is, the tenth great-grandfather of the reigning prince; the ninth, eighth, and so on; must positively have been there at some remote period of the past. By calling him Jimmu he is none the less there than he was before he was called Jimmu, and his new title therefore does not make him less of an entity than he was before. And so on with all the other Japanese emperors who, in the eighth century A.D., were similarly provided with imaginary names. Possibly this is how the Japanese argued with themselves when they set about the task. The situation is a curious one, and perhaps unique in the world; but it does not matter much so long as we keep imagination separate from real evidence.

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