We must now go back a little. The first of the so-called Five Tyrants, or the Five successive Protectors of orthodox China, had died in 643, his philosopher and friend, Kwan-tsz, having departed this life a little before him. Their joint title to fame lies in the fact that "they saved China from becoming a Tartar province," and even Confucius admits the truth of this--a most important factor in enabling us to understand the motive springs of Chinese policy. Under these circumstances the Duke of Sung, who, as we have seen, had special moral pretensions to leadership on account of his being the direct lineal representative of the Shang dynasty which perished in 1122 B.C., immediately put forward a claim to the hegemony. He rather prejudiced his reputation, however, by committing the serious ritual offence of "warring upon Ts'i's mourning," that is, of engaging the allies in hostilities with the late Protector's own country whilst his body lay unburied, and his sons were still wrangling over the question of succession. The Tartars, however, came to the rescue of, and made a treaty with, Ts'i--this is only one of innumerable instances which show how the northern Chinese princes of those early days were in permanent political touch with the horse-riding nomads. The orthodox Duke of Sung, dressed in his little brief authority as Protector, had the temerity to "send for" the ruler of Ts'u to attend his first durbar. The result was that the King unceremoniously took his would-be protector into custody at the durbar, and put in a claim to be Protector himself. During the military operations connected with this political manoeuvre, the Duke of Sung was guilty of the most ridiculous piece of ritual chivalry; highly approved, it is true, by the literary pedants of all subsequent ages, but ruinous to his own worldly cause. The Ts'u army was crossing a difficult ford, and the Duke's advisers recommended a prompt attack. "It is not honourable," said the Duke, "to take advantage even of an enemy in distress." "But," said his first adviser, "war is war, and its only object is to punish the foe as severely and promptly as possible, so as to gain the upper hand, and establish what you are fighting for."
Meanwhile important events had been going on in the marquisate of Tsin, which, during the thirty-five years' hegemony of Ts'i, had been engaged in extending its territory in all directions, in fighting Ts'in, and in annexing bordering Tartar tribes. At its greatest development Tsin practically comprised all between the Yellow River in its turns south, east, and north; but, though probably half its population was Tartar, it never ceased to be "orthodox" in administrative principle. The energetic but licentious ruler of Tsin had married a Tartar wife in addition to his more legitimate spouse ; or, rather, he took two wives, the one being sister of the other, but the younger sister brought him no children. Before this he had already married two sisters of quite a different Tartar tribe, and each of his earlier wives had brought him a son. His last pair of Tartar lady-loves gained such a strong hold upon his affections that he was induced by the mother, being the elder sister of the two, to nominate her own son as his heir to the exclusion of the three elder brethren, who were sent on various flimsy pretexts to defend the northern frontiers against the more hostile Tartars. To complicate matters, the Marquess's legitimate or first spouse, the Ts'i princess, besides bearing a son, had also given him a daughter, who had married the powerful ruler of Ts'in to the west. Thus not only were Ts'in and Tsin both half-Tartar in origin and sympathy, but at this period three out of four of the Tsin possible heirs were actually sons of Tartar women. The legitimate heir, whose mother was of Ts'i origin, and, who himself was a man of very high character, ended the question so far as he was concerned, by committing dutiful suicide; the three sons by Tartar mothers succeeded to the throne one after the other, but in the inverse order of their respective ages. The story of the wanderings of the eldest brother, who did not come to the throne until he was sixty-two years of age, is one of the most interesting and romantic episodes in the whole history of China; and, even with the unfamiliar proper names, would make a capital romantic novel, so graphically and naturally are some of the scenes depicted. First he threw himself heart and soul into Tartar life, joined the rugged horsemen in their internecine wars, married a Tartar wife, and gave her sister to his most faithful henchman; then, hearing of the death of the Ts'i premier, Kwan- tsz, he vowed he would go to Ts'i and try to act as political adviser in his place. Hospitably received by the Marquess of Ts'i, he was presented with a charming and sensible Ts'i princess, who for five years exercised so enervating an influence upon his virility, ambition, and warlike ardour, that he had to be surreptitiously smuggled away from the gay Ts'i capital whilst drunk, by his Tartar father-in-law and by his chief Chinese henchman and brother-in-law. Then he commenced a series of visits to the petty orthodox courts which separated Ts'i from Ts'u. Several of them were rude and neglectful to this unfortunate prince in distress; but Sung was an exception, for Sung ambition, as above narrated, had been roughly checked by Ts'u, and Sung now wished to make overtures to Tsin instead, and to conciliate a prince who was as likely as not to come to the throne of Tsin. In 637 the prince reached the court of Ts'u, whose ruler had quite recently begun to take formal and official rank as a "civilized" federal prince. Meanwhile, news came that his brother was dead; this younger brother had taken refuge in Ts'in during the reign of his youngest brother , and had, after that brother's death, been most generously assisted to the throne in turn by the ruler of Ts'in, on the understanding, however, that Tsin should cede to Ts'in all territory on the right bank of the Yellow River, i.e. in the modern province of Shen Si: but the new Tsin ruler had been persuaded by his courtiers to go back on this humiliating bargain, in consequence of which war had been declared by Ts'in upon Tsin, and the faithless ruler of Tsin had been for some time a prisoner of war in Ts'in; but, regaining his throne through the influence of his half-sister, the wife of the Ts'in ruler, had died in harness in 637 B.C. This deceased ruler's young son was not popular, and Ts'in was now instrumental in welcoming the refugee back from Ts'u, and in leading him in triumph, after nineteen years of adventurous wandering, to his own ancestral throne; his rival and nephew was killed.
All orthodox China seemed to feel now that the interesting wanderer, after all his experiences of war, travel, Tartars, Chinese, barbarians, and politics, was the right man to be Protector. But it was first necessary for Tsin to defeat Ts'u in a decisive battle; a war had arisen between Tsin and Ts'u out of an attempt on the part of CHÊNG , to drag in the preponderant power of Ts'u by way of shielding itself from punishment at Tsin's hands for past rude behaviour. The Emperor sent his own son to confer the status of "my uncle" upon him,--which is practically another way of saying "Protector" to a kinsman,--and in the year 632 accordingly a grand durbar was held, in which the Emperor himself took part. The Tsin ruler, who had summoned the durbar, and had even "commanded the presence" of the Emperor, was the guiding spirit of the meeting in every respect, except in the nominal and ritualistic aspect of it; nevertheless, he was prudent and careful enough scrupulously to observe all external marks of deference, and to make it appear that he was merely acting as mouthpiece to the puppet Emperor; he even went the length of dutifully offering to the Emperor some Ts'u prisoners, and the Emperor in turn "graciously ceded" to Tsin the imperial possessions north of the Yellow River. Thus Ts'in and Tsin each in turn clipped the wings of the Autocrat of All the Chinas, so styled.
During these few unsettled years between the death of the first real Protector in 643 and the formal nomination by the Emperor of the second in 632, Ts'u and Sung had, as we have seen, both attempted to assert their rival claims. A triangular war had also been going on for some time between Ts'i and Ts'u, the bone of contention being some territory of which Ts'i had stripped Lu; and there was war also between Tsin and Ts'i, Tsin and Ts'in, and Tsin and Ts'u, which latter state always tried to secure the assistance of Ts'in when possible. From first to last, there never was, during the period covered by Confucius' history, any serious war between Tartar Ts'in and barbarian Ts'u; rather were they natural allies against orthodox China, upon which intermediate territory they both learned to fix covetous eyes.
The situation is too involved, in view of the uncouthness of strange names and the absence of definite frontiers--changing as they did with the result of each few years' campaigning--to make it possible to give a full, or even approximately intelligible, explanation of each move. But the following main features are incontestable:--Ts'in, Tsin, Ts'i, and Ts'u were growing, progressive, and aggressive states, all of them strongly tinged with foreign blood, which foreign blood was naturally assimilated the more readily in proportion to the power, wealth, and culture of the assimilating orthodox nucleus. The imperial domain was an extinct political volcano, belching occasional fumes of threatening, sometimes noxious, but not ever fatally suffocating smoke, always without fire. "The Hia," that is, the federation of princes belonging to pure Hia, or "Chinese" stock, were evidently unwarlike in proportion to the absence of foreign blood in their veins; but they were all of them equally _rusés_, and all of them past-masters in casuistic diplomacy. Trade, agriculture, literature, and even law, were now quite active, and China was undoubtedly beginning to move, as, after 2500 years of a second "ritual" sleep, she is again now moving, at the beginning of the twentieth century A.D.