China: 3000 Years of History, 50 Years of Revolution. Robert Louzon 1998

Part I: From the Origins to the Opium War

Chapter I: From the Origins to the Foundation of the Chinese State (to 221BC)

It is only during the course of the first millennium before the Christian era that history in China truly begins. [1] It is true that Chinese scholars represent the history of China as beginning at the start of the third millennium BC, but this history is no more than a series of legends, or rather an ‘edifying’ history intended to illustrate the moral principles which, for those who wrote it, should be the basis of all government. Insofar as it dealt with great events it was mingled with the genuine traditions of antiquity.

As in the case of all the ancient countries, the first question that arises in China’s case is, does Chinese civilisation – that is to say, Chinese irrigation – represent the activity of more or less autochthonous peoples worked out on the spot through their own experiences, or is it something imported? And as in the case of Chaldea, Egypt and the Indus, this question must remain unanswered in the present state of our knowledge. We will only mention the opinion long in favour that the origin of the Chinese and their civilisation lay in the oases around the Tarim, just as the origin of Sumerian civilisation, Chaldea’s earliest civilisation, is to be sought in other oases, those of Turkestan, according to certain writers. [2]

But whether indigenous or imported, in what period was this civilisation established in China? This question must similarly remain unanswered. The most that can be said is that its birth dates at least as far back as the beginning of the second millennium before our era.

On the other hand, one fact is fairly well established, and that is the place of its early development.

Place of Origin

Chinese civilisation took shape just where we find the political centre of gravity of China during the early centuries of the historic period – in other words, near to the point where the Yellow River, after having described its great curve towards the north, abandons its north-south direction, makes an abrupt turn and flows eastwards.

Why did it take shape in those regions? Let us call to mind that the basin of the Yellow River is the region of the yellow earth.

The yellow earth, a sort of porous silt, no doubt carried there and heaped hundreds of metres high by the desert winds, is of inexhaustible fertility. It is the only soil in the world that has furnished crops for thousands of years without manure and without its fertility diminishing.

So it was just the soil for cultivation. But the richest soils are incapable of producing the slightest crops if they are insufficiently watered. Less than 500mm of water fall every year in the region of the middle course of the Yellow River (the part between Lanzhou and the neighbourhood of Xi'an), and scarcely more than 500mm on its lower course. These quantities are too small to enable the maximum possible exploitation of the fertility of the yellow earth. This cannot ensure any really high productivity for human labour, the basis of all civilisation, unless it is irrigated. [3]

Now, as a general rule, the Yellow River is hardly suitable for irrigation. In its middle course, it flows over high plateaux formed by the yellow earth in which it hollows out deep gorges that are often full of water, and where there is no cultivable land. On the other hand, in its lower course, the Yellow River flows across an immense plain situated almost at sea level whose natural state (unless dykes are built) is a vast marshland. The plain is therefore no better suited than the gorge to irrigation that can be undertaken by primitive methods, which would not make it necessary to lift the water on to a plateau or to drain the plain by a system of dykes and drainage.

In fact, there is but one geographical position perfectly suited to irrigation: the valley, a valley broad enough to ensure that land will be left free beyond the bed of the river, but where the bank is sufficiently deep to ensure that the flow of water will not spread over the surrounding land.

Now it is precisely these kinds of valleys that are lacking in the basin of the Yellow River. They are almost entirely absent, except at one point. This point is the one we have indicated already; where the river turns its course to the east, where we encounter it passing from its middle to its lower course, where it leaves the plateau for the plain.

In fact, in these places the Yellow River has cut a great ditch about 40 kilometres broad running from the north-east to the south-west across this region, providing the valley with two tributaries, the Wei He on the right and the Fen He on the left in their lower courses, and with the Yellow River itself when it crosses it. It was just here that Chinese civilisation, the Chinese people, [4] and later the Chinese state took shape.

Clearly, this setting had nothing of the majestic unity of the Nile Valley, of the Indus with its ‘five rivers’, or even of the delta of the Tigris and Euphrates. Nonetheless, and perhaps because of this, it became the cradle of a civilisation that spread over an immense region, and became thereby the world’s most important irrigational civilisation. Beginning with these small plains at the junction of the Wei, Fen and Yellow Rivers, on the one hand, the Chinese proceeded to the conquest of the ‘Great Plain’, the vast plain traversed by the lower reaches of the Yellow River, and, on the other, to the conquest of the Blue River, called ‘the Great River’ by the Chinese.

The First Colonisation

This event appears to have occurred towards the middle of the second millennium, some time in the fourteenth century BC. If this is the case, and if it is also true that bronze was not introduced into China until the fifteenth century BC, then it would seem that there was some sort of cause and effect relationship between the two events.

The assault proceeded in two directions, eastward and southwards. On the one hand, colonisation went on down the Yellow River, where it soon found a secondary area of growth well beyond the area of flooding across the marshes of the Great Plain in the hills of Shandong, and, on the other hand, by crossing the Qinling Mountains bordering on the Wei valley on the south through a pass situated almost on the latitude of Xi'an, the tide of settlement reached the Han River, a great tributary of the Blue River, where it descended to its junction with the latter at Hankou. On reaching this point, we find ourselves in a country as easy as the country of the Yellow River is difficult: here the vegetation has only to be cleared away, and drainage is no longer necessary. Compared with its northern brother, the Blue River is a well-behaved and easy flowing river; it flows along quietly in its bed with fewer alluvial deposits, scarcely ever rising to the level of the surrounding earth, so that the lands surrounding it are not marshes. When its waters do rise other than in exceptional years, they are kept under effective control by an entire system of dams and canals, and they can be used without waste. As for the rest, the climate here is as mild as that north of Qinling is harsh, and the more substantial monsoon rains (more than a metre) are sufficient to ensure regular crops even without irrigation.

The Blue River is the south, whereas the Yellow River is the north, the continental north whose border is the desert. It was not on the banks of the easy-flowing Blue River, but in the difficult conditions beside the Yellow River that China’s centre of gravity has been throughout the periods when China was strong.

China’s future greatness was due to the scarcity of irrigational land in the birthplace of Chinese civilisation, and then to the effort required for the drainage and cultivation of the marshes of the Yellow River. The small size of the valleys in the areas of old China, often cut up into separate basins, involved working the available land to the limit, from which comes the meticulous care shown by the Chinese, and the exceptional intensity of their agriculture. It must moreover be borne in mind that there is no work that requires a stronger and more sustained effort than the drainage and improvement of the soil. In Europe, the draining of marshland is regarded as forced labour to be done by penal or concentration camp prisoners. In Asia, it has engendered in the Chinese a quite extraordinary capacity for work. ‘Everything comes into existence through necessity.’

It is the shortage of irrigable land in old China and the immensity of the plain below the Yellow River, requiring a Herculean effort in the latter and an elaborate technology in the former, that make China the country where the highest forms of civilisation based upon irrigation have been attained. The Chinese owes the skill and the work speed that have made him the most industrious man in the world, and his civilisation the most cultured, to the difficulties that have beset him. The obstacles presented by nature give rise to the development of the faculties that are required to mitigate and surmount them. Civilisation is never easily created.

The First Political Forms

What was the political regime in China during this early period? This is still a question that cannot be definitively answered. Like the Egyptians, the Chinese portray their primeval political regime as of a country governed by divine men. [5] The men who are so deified were no doubt those who planned and directed the first irrigation and drainage works. These divine men were apparently succeeded by emperors, who were themselves, of course, only men, but it is still very difficult to determine the extent and nature of their power. [6]

On the other hand, it is a well-established fact that at the dawn of the historical period, whether this was in the ninth or the eighth century BC, China consisted of a great number of small states – city states. There were several hundreds of them, and there may even once have been more.

It was a system of government perfectly suited to China’s social and economic development at the time. These small communities fitted in with the agricultural system; a valley bottom or a spot on the Great Plain where shallow marshes allowed for easier drainage. These communities were always surrounded by ‘barbarians’, in other words non-cultivators, or cultivators who did not irrigate their land, whether perched on plateaux dominating the valley, or, like the Hadjouts of Mitidja at the time of the conquest of Algeria, wandering across the marshes of the plain, and each settled community had to provide for its own defence and its own administration. That is why each of them was constituted as a city under the authority of a lord.

These cities were laid out in three parts; the lord’s castle, more or less fortified for the purposes of defence, the city proper where the inhabitants resided surrounded by a wall, and finally the fields themselves, surrounded by a second wall. [7] The lord’s first duty was, of course, to secure the defence of the city, and consequently he had responsibility both for political leadership and economic organisation; he had to ‘repair the borders and limits of the fields, to explore mountains, hills, slopes, plains and hollows, to decide on the cultivation suitable for each kind of soil and in what places the five cereals should be sown’. [8]

Warlord and organiser of new settlements – such were the essential functions of the lord of each of these economically and ethnically isolated miniature states.

Another of his functions consisted of distributing the lands amongst all the families of the community in proportion to the number of hands each had at its disposal, according to a system very analogous to the Russian mir or the German mark, [9] with the obligation imposed upon every group of eight families to cultivate, in addition to their own plots, a supplementary plot for the state (just as the European serf had to cultivate the land of his feudal lord in addition to his own).

Separated as they were, these small communities had nevertheless a feeling that they belonged to the same civilisation, and this sentiment showed itself in the recognition of their nominal subordination to the same lord, whom the Chinese historians call the ‘emperor’. He was, however, an ‘emperor’ whose functions appeared to be exclusively religious, or rather magical, because he had first and foremost to ensure that there were good harvests by the performance of certain appropriate ceremonies. In this emperor we find the human equivalent of the Apollo of Delphi or the Enlil of Nippur; [10] in other words, a symbol of the unity and origin of a civilisation; but in the case of the strongly unsuperstitious Chinese, the representation of this symbol was vested in a pontiff, not in a god.

From Lords To Princes (Seventh to Fifth Centuries BC)

The more the cultivated areas were extended, and the more the centres of cultivation grew closer to each other and fused, the more the great law of political concentration began to come into play in China, as elsewhere. The process was already in full development in the fifth century BC, and in the third century BC it was to end in the formation of the empire. It therefore took half a millennium.

This concentration had two aspects during its first period. On the one hand, the number of states diminished. According to the Chinese chronicles, they fell from 1700 to 50. In the eighth century, there had certainly still been some hundreds, whereas by the fifth century BC, there remained no more than a few dozen.

On the other hand, this concentration was accompanied by the formation of a feudal system properly so-called – that is, by the establishment of a hierarchy amongst the feudal lords. Some lords, more powerful than others, whose estates covered a greater extent of cultivated lands than did those of the others, or were strategically better placed, granted their protection to neighbouring lords, who in turn undertook to support them. These feudal lords with vassals at their disposal were those whom the Chinese historians call ‘the hegemons’. Some of these hegemons became even greater and became ‘great hegemons’. [11]

It is a remarkable fact that these powerful hegemons were not those who inhabited the centre of China, but those on the borderlands – those in direct contact with the external enemy, in other words, the barbarians. The five principal hegemons were in fact generally those of Jin, Qin, Chu, Qi and Song. The first three of these principalities were the ‘marches’ of the west – the first facing north, the second west, and the third west and south; the last two were the eastern marches, Qi facing north-east and Song facing south.

It was at this time that Chinese civilisation took shape. The period of the hegemons was China’s ‘classical’ period. It was the time when the great philosophers, Confucius, Lao Zi and their immediate followers lived. It was then that those great works were written that have remained the foundation of Chinese education for the next 2500 years. It was the era of creative philosophy and literary perfection.

It was also the era when the rules of courtesy and refinement which until yesterday were scrupulously observed by all well-bred Chinese were instituted in the courts of the smaller and middling lords.

In proportion as the power of the feudal lords increased, so did the cultivation of letters in the borderland regions of China, and for the same reason. Daoism came to life in Sichuan, in other words in the extreme south-west of the China of that time, whereas Confucius lived in Shandong – that is, in the extreme east. This is noted by Granet when he writes in his Chinese Civilisation: ‘It was in the provinces on the margin that Chinese civilisation blossomed more fully. It is there that... the pride of being Chinese was most strongly felt; it is there that men were most conscious of superiority over the Barbarian and of the duties this imposed.’ [12]

This was not a phenomenon peculiar to China alone. The same thing has been noted at other times, and in quite different countries – for example in Germany. It was in Saxony and Bohemia that the German language, the foundation of German culture, took shape. As Meillet says in his study entitled The Differentiation and Unification of Languages, ‘the common German language arose from a great movement of colonisation that gradually enabled the Germans to conquer all eastern Germany, which is the fundamental fact of German history’. [13]

In fact, it is only by opposing that we define ourselves. The habitual xenophobia characteristic of frontier populations in a country that is in the process of growth, as China was in the sixth century BC or Germany in the twelfth century AD, results in the creation of a ‘culture’, the only means of externalising and affirming its civilisation. It is by colliding with other civilisations that a civilisation becomes conscious of itself and becomes a civilisation ‘in itself'; the creation of a culture is the expression of this act of becoming conscious.

It should equally be noted that in China, just as certainly as in Chaldea, and doubtless in Egypt and India, as well as in Phoenicia, Greece and Italy, culture originated and reached its highest degree of development in a system of city states – that is to say, small and medium-sized states in constant mutual rivalry and often in open conflict with each other, none of which could claim to represent the entirety or even an important fraction of the people of the same civilisation who lived in them. It seems that a common culture is created as a reaction against political multiplicity when this has itself already diminished enough for it to be able to become conscious of the possibility of unity.

From Princes To Monarch (Fourth and Fifth Centuries BC)

In the course of the second half of the fourth century and all through the third century BC, the concentration of the Chinese states went on apace, until it ended with the unification of all China into a single and centralised state in 221BC.

This concentration was not only a territorial one, producing a reduction in the number of states and an expansion in the ones that remained. It was also a concentration of power. The feudal principalities were transformed into real states, and the hegemons became kings. What did this mean?

Under the former order, the feudal lord, whatever the extent of his importance, whether he be hegemon or small vassal, dwelt in his domain surrounded by ‘noblemen’ – warriors, in other words, whose function was to fight. In the event of outside danger, he allied himself with the neighbouring lords under the command of one or other of them in order to repel the common enemy. This system was quite satisfactory when it was only a matter of reducing isolated groups of barbarians inside China or merely sorting out internal conflicts, but it was manifestly insufficient when it became necessary to organise remote expeditions, or even to resist great masses of enemy forces.

Now the more the Chinese cultures spread and transformed themselves into a coherent whole, the more tempting a prize they became to the barbarians themselves, forcing them to concentrate their forces against them. The foremost preoccupation of the hegemons, and particularly those of the frontier provinces, was therefore to substitute a corps of administrative officials closely and organically bound to the sovereign for the fragile personal links existing between the suzerain and his vassals, and more important still, to create a state army, as distinct from the simple levy of vassals.

This progress from a feudal system to state, and from a feudal army to a regular army, is a phenomenon with which we are quite familiar, since we experienced it ourselves at the end of the Middle Ages.

The transformation of a feudal army into a state army is, however, generally possible only through a change in weaponry, or at least a change in the methods of warfare. In the West, it was the use of gunpowder that made this transformation possible; in China, it was the suppression of chariots.

The feudal lord was accustomed to fight in a chariot; the weapons change that the last hegemons had to make was no longer to have chariotry as an essential component of their armies, but infantry and cavalry. Instead of a feudal lord fighting more or less isolated encounters from his chariot surrounded by his armed subordinates, there was now a uniform mass of soldiers fighting shoulder to shoulder. The feudal lord therefore disappeared from the battle line, and consequently he disappeared as a lord. From now on there were only ‘soldiers of the king’, and consequently only ‘subjects of the king’.

Thus it came about that in the years following the middle of the first millennium BC, the great hegemons ceased to be hegemons and became actual kings; and there were no longer any feudal lords, but heads of state.

Nowhere was the transformation pressed forward more vigorously than in the state of Qin. Not only was the army there radically defeudalised, the chariots being entirely abolished and replaced by cavalry, but extremely important social backing was provided for the new army by means of a no less radical agrarian reform. Serfdom and village communal ownership were abolished at one stroke. From being a simple tenant farmer, which he had been up until then, the peasant became the sole proprietor, endowed not only with the right to ‘enjoy’ his property, but also to ‘dispose’ of it.

Similarly, the old nobility, which was as suppressed in the civil domain by the abolition of serfdom as it was in the military domain by the elimination of chariots, was replaced with a new nobility who received their titles purely on the basis of merit, and military merit in particular. From then on every peasant had title deeds in his pocket, and a marshal’s baton in his knapsack.

The reason the state of Qin found itself at the forefront of this transformation was because such a position was more necessary for it than for any of the others. In fact, not only was it a ‘marcher’ state, but it was the most exposed march. Gansu was the easiest route for Mongol invasion. Skirting Tibet on the edge of the Gobi, the Mongols reached China from their grassy steppes by the shortest desert route. Now the gate through which they had to pass from Gansu into China was that state established in the Wei valley which closed it, and that was the state of Qin.

However, the military and social transformation that had been imposed by the necessity of defending themselves against the barbarians could also serve as a weapon against the Chinese themselves. Qin, China’s protector, was becoming its master. This is the usual destiny of marcher states. Qin was eventually even to give the whole country its name, or at least that with which Europeans are acquainted, for China is the European transcription of Qin.

Even the victorious defensive operations that Qin could carry out against the Mongols (then called Huns) could not last long. Defence alone cannot achieve victory. To gain a real victory, the enemy must be destroyed, and the Huns could only be destroyed by invading their territory. But that would require greater forces than Qin could dispose of on its own. It required the forces of the whole of China, and to do that it was first necessary to unite China.

And so it happened that, beginning in 316BC, Qin seized control of one Chinese state after another, until in 221BC it annexed the last, and the king of Qin could call himself Shi Huang Di, the First Emperor, Napoleon the First. The unification of China was completed. [14]

It had required a century of ferocious wars. The Chinese call this period of their history that of the ‘warring states’. They were veritable wars of extermination. After every expedition, the numbers of the beheaded amounted to tens of thousands. [15] Thus the struggle showed the usual characteristics of wars of unification. All the individual characteristics and all the set ways in which the thought of entire groups of the population had for centuries been cast resisted to the last gasp. For people were fighting not only for their honour and for their interests, but for their very existence. That is why the wars that precede a ‘Roman peace’ are always amongst the harshest, if not indeed the very harshest.

Once master of China, Shi Huang Di’s first task was to give it the political and social structure that had borne such abundant fruits in Qin. Everywhere the peasant was made the owner of his land. An entire centralised system of administration was set up, and under this the now redundant feudal lords were allowed to transform themselves into a court nobility with forced residence in the capital, as under Louis XIV. The systems of writing and of weights and measures were standardised. And finally, to this political and cultural unification was added a geographical one by means of a great system of imperial roadways converging on the same spot – the town of Kaifeng, situated on the edges of a plateau of the plain at the junction of the old and the new China. Moreover, all internal boundaries were demolished, particularly the walls that had separated the different states (for as their states had grown larger, the old cities had demolished their walls and replaced them with walls at strategic points on their frontiers), and these walls were replaced by an immense external wall protecting the northern frontier of the new state against the Mongol barbarian. This is the Great Wall of China, which runs from Jilin to Gansu for more than 1500 kilometres and still exists after 22 centuries, just as the barbarian threat has persisted for 22 centuries. Finally, to crown it all as a symbol of the unity of the Chinese state, Shi Huang Di instituted the imperial cult.

Whilst seeing to his northern defences along the desert line, Shi Huang Di pursued a vigorous policy of colonisation in the south. Going far beyond the Blue River, he annexed the basin of the Zhu Jiang (Canton), and may even have penetrated as far as the Red River (Tonkin). There are plains and rivers to be found there that resemble the dimensions and type of agriculture of the Great Plain more than the intervening region between the Blue River and the Chang Jiang, a region of woods and hills.

These territories in the extreme south were thus advance posts for colonisation placed well forward, something in the nature of a forlorn hope. Because of this, a rather exceptional procedure had to be adopted to make them attractive. The state of Shi Huang Di, perhaps one of the most ‘modern’ states that China has ever produced, employed in these regions the very ‘modern’ method of colonisation by criminals and ‘undesirables’: tens of thousands of these types of people were forcibly transported to these remote territories with the object of having them peopled and cultivated, a method that anticipated by more than 2000 years those used to colonise Australia and Siberia.

However, the necessity that obliged Qin to be forever on guard against the barbarians nearby, and which had made the social revolution that began in 361BC an easy matter for that state, was far from making itself felt in so pressing a manner in the rest of China. The barbarian, after all, was so very far away! It followed that Shi Huang Di’s reforms encountered a lively resistance. All the feudal reactionaries, whose spokesmen were those literati whose numbers had increased enormously in the royal courts and entourage of the lords, rose up against the reformer. He resisted resolutely. Boldly attacking what was most worthy of respect in the tradition to which they would have him return, he had all books burned, those books that were held to oppose his reforming will. All books, except those of the state of Qin and technical books, were destroyed.

Even so, the reaction was too strong to be overcome at a single blow. Shi Huang Di’s first successor was deposed in 208BC, and the ancient kingdoms were re-established. [16] But this ‘restoration’ was destined to last an even shorter time than the French restoration after 1815, not even as long as the regime it had wanted to abolish. In 203BC, the Former Han re-established the unity of China. [17]


1. ‘We must resign ourselves... to leaving without dates all the periods anterior to the year 841BC.’ (Granet, Chinese Civilisation, London, 1930, pp56-7) [Author’s note] This date, the first year of the Gonghe, the period of the ducal regency according to Sima Qian, is regarded as the first fixed date in Chinese history.

2. The theory that Sumerian civilisation originated in the eastern oases was first put forward by Raphael Pumpelly in his Explorations in Turkestan in 1905-08. It was not wholly accepted at the time, and has not gained much in popularity since.

3. ‘The yellow earth only really has the fertility ascribed to it where it extends in a rather narrow bed amid the sands and alluvial plains, where its surface is close to underground water tables or other sources of water supply.’ (Jules Sion, Géographie Universelle, Volume 9, Asie des moussons, Paris, 1928, p68) [Author’s note]

4. Cf the map drawn up by Élisée Réclus, following the Yukung, in his Géographie Universelle, Volume 7, a map showing the density of the population of China in ancient times. The Yukung is a document going back to the twenty-second century BC, according to Chinese chronicles. To these valleys, as places of the origin of Chinese civilisation, it is necessary to add the scattered spots where the rivers, leaving the plateau zone, spread abundant alluvium over the plain. [Author’s note] The ‘Tribute of Yu’ is a document contained in the Book of History ascribed to Confucius, where it appears as the tribute roll of the Emperor Yu, the legendary founder of the Xia Dynasty. Part of it purports to be an account of the regulation of the waters by Yu, and the other is an ancient geographical survey of China, with tax rolls and particulars of the most direct routes to the capital. For an English translation of this latter part of the document, see R Wilhelm, A Short History of Chinese Civilisation, London, 1929, pp90-2. [Editor’s note]

5. The Turin Papyrus (column 1, fragments 11 and 12) and Manetho (Waddell ed, pp2, 4) show that the Egyptians believed that the first to rule in Egypt were the gods. The Book of Changes and the Book of History represent the first semi-divine culture heroes of Chinese civilisation in the form of ‘The Five Emperors’.

6. The last of the ‘Five Emperors’ was supposed to have been followed on the throne by Yu, the first emperor of the Xia Dynasty. No traces of its rule can be identified, but the historicity of the following dynasty, the Shang (1523-1027BC), is no longer in doubt since the discovery of oracle bones from its last three capitals. Of the 30 Shang kings listed by the later Grand Historian Sima Qian, only three cases of inversion and two incorrect filiations have been identified. But when inscriptions upon bronzes and literary information first become abundant, China was under the nominal rule of the Zhou Dynasty (1027-249BC), divided into the Western Zhou, with its capital at Hao, near Xi'an (1027-770), and the Eastern Zhou (770-249), with its capital at Luoyang.

7. In Morocco, Meknès, an Arab town situated close to the Berber tribe, also had its fields surrounded by a wall. [Author’s note]

8. Li Ji, or The Book of Rites. [Author’s note] See note 18, Introduction.

9. Peasant ownership of land in Russia during the nineteenth century was not on an individual basis, but was vested in the village commune, the mir, which regulated its affairs by means of a village assembly. The mark was a large tract of land in pre-feudal Germany containing several villages where the land was collectively owned, even when it was individually tilled, for the land was parcelled out again from time to time.

10. The centre of the cult of the Sumerian god Enlil was the E-kur temple at Nippur. He was credited with planning and creating the most productive features of the cosmos, laying the plans that brought forth all seeds, plants and trees from the earth, and inventing the pickaxe and the plough. The chief oracle of the Greek god Apollo was at Delphi. He was regarded as the originator of colonisation and fosterer of flocks and herds, and several of his festivals celebrated the renewal of vegetation in the spring.

11. The Great Hegemons of the Eastern Zhou period were Duke Huan of Qi (685-643BC), Duke Mu of Qin (659-621BC), Duke Xiang of Song (650-637BC), Duke Wen of Jin (636-628BC) and Duke Zhuang of Chu (613-591BC). It is doubtful whether the small state of Song wielded anything like the power of the others, but Duke Xiang’s name was probably added to bring the figure up to five, the customary number for such classifications.

12. Marcel Granet, Chinese Civilisation, London, 1930, p85.

13. Paul Jules Antoine Meillet, ‘Différentiation et unification dans les langues’, Linguistique historique et linguistique générale, Paris, 1921, p123.

14. King Ying Zheng of Qin (246-210BC) proclaimed himself Emperor Shi Huang Di in 221BC after eliminating the states of Han (230), Zhao (228), Wei (225), Chu (223), Yan (222) and Qi (221).

15. The death toll during the final period of the Warring States was very heavy. The state of Zhao was said to have lost 400 000 men at the time of its defeat by Qin at Changping in 260BC, and the corpses of some of them who had been buried alive were discovered at Gaoping in Shanxi in 1995. Qin followed up several of its victories with a number of similar massacres.

16. Hu Hai, Emperor Erh Shi Huang Di (210-207BC), the second son of Shi Huang Di, was deposed and murdered by the eunuch Zhao Gao, who placed his nephew Zi Ying on the throne.

17. Liu Bang officially ascended the throne in 202BC, and is known under the posthumous name period of the Emperor Gao Zu (206-194 BC). He began the Han Dynasty (206BC-221AD), generally divided into the Western, or former Han Dynasty, with its capital at Chang'an (206BC-25AD), and the Eastern, or later Han Dynasty, with its capital at Luoyang (25-221AD).