(DYNASTIC RULE and the CHINESE – continued)

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DYNASTIC RULE and the CHINESE (13 of 13)


Genetic Diffusions and Religious Rivalry in the 5th Century

In 417, an army from the south, led by a former cobbler named Liu Yu, went north and conquered Luoyang, Chang'an and surrounding territory. Liu Yu returned to his base in the south. Subordinates he left behind in the north quarreled among themselves, and Xiongnu chieftains again overran the area. In the south, Liu Yu was able to force the Jin emperor to abdicate in his favor, and Liu Yu began what was to be known as the Liu-Song dynasty.

Liu Yu's successor, the emperor Wen (424-53) adopted Buddhism, believing that it would help his subjects become content, help them acquire good manners and discourage rebellion.

These were times of the greatest growth of Buddhism in China. In the northern half of China, Buddhist monasteries had become economically powerful landowning enterprises with hereditary serfs, and these monasteries were winning tax exemptions. This annoyed many in the north and caused some people to turn against Buddhism. A few remaining orthodox Confucianists were also finding fault with Buddhists for leaving their families for the monastery and for a lack of sense of duty to society.

Conflict also arose between Buddhism and traditional Chinese attitudes toward sexuality. The Chinese had accepted sexuality as a natural part of life and necessary in preserving the family, while Buddhism's attitude toward sexuality was more negative. Buddhist men and women were segregated at their meetings, and the Buddhists saw licentiousness in the Taoist meetings of men and women together, and Buddhists accused the Taoists of having orgies.

In 444, Taoists in the north inspired a movement against Buddhism on the grounds that Buddhism was an alien creed. In 445, in putting down a rebellion at Chang'an, ruling forces found a cache of arms at a Buddhist monastery. The ruler, Daiwu, decreed that all Buddhists monks were to be put to death and all Buddhist images and books destroyed. Some monasteries were attacked and destroyed, and a few monks were forced to return to family life. Then, in the early 450s, Daiwu again gave favor to Buddhism, followed by his assassination in 452.

In 453, in the south of China, the third successor in the Liu-Song dynasty was assassinated by his son, and the assassin was himself murdered by his brother in 455. This brother became emperor, and he guarded against his own assassination by massacring other princes in his extended family. He ruled until 465, when he was succeeded by a sixteen-year-old, who was assassinated six months later. The murdered boy was succeeded by his uncle, who ruled from 465 to 472 and became known as "the Pig" because of his weight. The "Pig" had all his brothers and nephews executed. He bequeathed his rule to his favorite son, who took power at the age of ten, and the boy, in the family tradition, began taking lives. And his murdering led to his own assassination, in 477, when he was fifteen. The royal Liu family was decimated and discredited, and in 479 a state official deposed the Liu family and founded a new dynasty, called Chi. Then the Chi family also began killing each other.

In the north, under the rule of Daiwu's grandson, Emperor Xiaowen – from 471 at age four and under Empress Wencheng (442-90) as regent – the economy improved. Court intrigues continued, and heads rolled. But taxes were light. Land was more equitably distributed and land disputes were mediated. Common people were punished for petty offenses, and mutilations as punishment for their crimes were replaced by imprisonment. The sick, orphaned and destitute were taken care of. In association with Buddhist compassion for all living things, animal sacrifices in religious rituals were prohibited.

Under Emperor Xiaowen, who reigned to 499, integration between those of Xiongnu heritage and the Chinese was encouraged, including Xiongnu men taking Chinese wives. Those of Xiongnu heritage were encouraged to dress Chinese. Chinese was made the official language, and it became mandatory that everyone under the age of thirty learn it. All were ordered to adopt a Chinese family name, and the emperor adopted a Chinese name: Yuan. And because Confucianism had been the philosophy of China's elite and had been used as a system of court ritual, the study of Confucius became a requirement for the educated.

The policy initiated under Emperor Xiaowen in the north was followed by those who ruled after him. Interracial marriages were common. The offspring of these marriages were inclined to identify themselves as Chinese. And after a few generations, those with nomadic forefathers would become indistinguishable from others.


War and State Formation in Ancient China and Early Modern Europe, by Victoria Tin-bor Hui, 2005

"Eunuch power in imperial China" by Shih-shan Henry Tsai, Chapter 12 in Eunuchs in Antiquity & Beyond, ed. S Tougher, 2002

China and the Search for Happiness by Wolfgang Bauer, 1976

The Ageless Chinese by Dun J. Li, 1978

China, a Macro History by Ray Huang, 1990

The Rise and Splendor of the Chinese Empire by Rene Grousset, 1968

The Cambridge History of China. Volume 1: the Ch'in and Han Empires

China, a Concise Cultural History, by Anton Cotterell, 1988

Additional Reading

The Origins of Political Order: from Prehistoric Times to the French Revolution, by Francis Fukuyama, 2012

Copyright © 1998-2018 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.