Episode Three The Great Fall
The year was 100 B.C., the greatest Chinese historian Sima Qian, court historian of Han Dynasty, was writing his immortal "Historical Records" when all of a sudden, Emperor Wu Di of Han Dynasty ordered to have him executed. The reason: Sima Qian sympathized with Li Ling, the general who was forced to surrender to the Huns. In order to live to complete the "Historical Records," Sima Qian chose the most humiliating court punishment ever in the history of mankind---castration. Enduring the great agony and pains, he wrote and wrote. Great histories came alive under his pen, and great heroes and their earth-shaking deeds were recorded. However, when his writing came to Emperor Wu Di of Han Dynasty, he could write no further.
Perhaps he was afraid. Perhaps he was confused.
Over two thousand years later, John King Fairbank, professor of Harvard and the most prominent sinologist in the West, was also confused. According to Fairbank, Sima Qian, a scholar of profound learning, knew only too well both the ancient history and what was happening in his own time. So, why did he never question the basis for the legality of the emperors' imperial power? Who gave the emperors the right to castrate his subjects at his whims? Why was there not a court of law for the subjects to restrict the spontaneous, irrational and unpredictable acts of the emperors?
This Western scholar, who spent all his life studying China, finally saw the light at the end of the tunnel on his death bed. Two days before he passed away, he gave by himself his manuscript "China: A New History" to Harvard Publishing House. In this book, he wrote, the son of heaven in China equals what the Westerners call "God of mankind." What the son of heaven does is just like what the people in the present-day insurance industry call "an act of God." While the Westerners, who believe in an eternal life, are awed by God, the Chinese, who are only concerned about this earthly life, are afraid of displeasing their emperors. Their god sits right in the central throne in the capital city.
Oh, Chinese! That's where your misery resides. The one that sits right in the central throne in the capital city is not God, but an earthly man just like you, born with great sins and limitations.
When blind men follow a blind man, they all walk in darkness.
(caption: the Great Fall)
Since Bao Si, the bastard daughter of the dragon, brought down a kingdom with her smiles and the Land of God was plunged into chaos, no one has been awed by God. Instead, everybody wants to be God and son of heaven the true dragon that controls the whole land.
Since that time, the sons and daughters of this Land of God have become a group of orphans and unfilial children who have disowned their heavenly father and who have been bogged down in periodic internal slaughter and mutual abuse: they slaughtered each other in disunity and abused each other in dictatorial unification.
First Cycle: The Period of Spring and Autumn and the Period of Warring States were plagued by over five hundred years of internal slaughter. Qin Dynasty served as a transitional period. After that, a dictatorial unification of about four hundred years marked Han Dynasty.
Second Cycle: Wei, Jin, Southern and Northern Dynasties featured internal bloody rivalries of nearly four hundred years. Sui Dynasty was a transitional period. The subsequent Tang Dynasty achieved a dictatorial unification lasting about three hundred years.
Third Cycle: Five Dynasties, Ten Kingdoms, Liao, Song, Xia, Jin Dynasties saw four hundred years of internal slaughter. Yuan Dynasty was a transitional period to a dictatorial unification lasting about three hundred years under Ming Dynasty.
Fourth Cycle: Three hundred years of rule under Manchurian Qing and invasion of Western powers. First there was the Republic of China, then a dictatorial unification under the People's Republic of China.
Almost all Chinese, be they old, young, men or women, know such people as Zhu Geliang, Sima Yi, Guan Gong, Zhao Yun and so on. They represent the apogee of human intelligence and resourcefulness, heroism and bravery, loyalty, filial piety, chastity and righteousness. The great poet Su Shi sings an ode to these ancients at the Red Cliff:
The Great River eastward flows,
With its waves are gone all those
Gallant heroes of bygone days.
To match the hills and the river so fair,
How many heroes brave of yore
Made a great show!
Oh, Chinese! Have you ever thought that the heroes you sing odes to are only heroes of mutual slaughter; the so-called loyal and righteous people you hold in high esteem got their fame only through mutual slaughter; and the intelligence and resourcefulness that you dwell upon with great relish are merely the intelligence and resourcefulness used in mutual slaughter and in meaningless life-and-death struggles!
My dear compatriots! Do you know what the things that you enjoy and play with great interest are? Do you know how confused your will and conscience are?
Mencius once claimed that there were no righteous wars in the Period of Spring and Autumn. In fact, not only this period had no righteous wars. In the past two thousand and five hundred years, which mutual slaughter could be righteous? Not to say the very distant years, each time, half of the population in China perished in the conflicts between Chu and Han, the Three Warring States, the Turmoil of the Eight Kings, Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms. A few decades ago, several million people died in the conflict between the Chinese Nationalists and the Chinese Communists. Looking back on it, has socialism triumphed or capitalism? Has Karl Marx the German emerged victorious or Sun Yat-sen the Chinese?
History does not have ifs about which you don't have to argue. On the other hand, history does have conclusions about which you have no way to argue!
Perhaps the most painful conclusion for the past two thousand and five hundred years of history is: the Chinese have defied heavenly laws and the heaven itself. They have slaughtered each other; the victors are crowned and the vanquished are cursed; and they switched hands every thirty years; might is right and heroes are judged by victories or defeats and the Chinese simply don't believe there is an eternal God.
(caption: the Great Fall)
Sons of heaven the true dragons who have stolen the glory of God covered the heaven with their hands and could not tolerate different opinions. For those subjects who wanted to uphold justice, there were no alternatives other than conspiracy and rebellion. This in turn aggravated the emperors' fear and intensified their cruel dictatorship and created a vicious circle until China was bogged down in internal conflicts, terror, incompetent court eunuchs, nepotism, partisan conflicts and groundless persecutions.
The tyranny in the Qin and Sui Dynasties goes without saying. When Han Dynasty started, Liu Bang first conferred nobility to his supporters on the basis of merits and services but soon had them all executed and in their place he put his own sons. When Tang Dynasty started, Li Shi-min killed an elder brother and a younger brother of his and took the imperial power all to himself. At the start of Ming Dynasty, Zhu Yuanzhang abolished the minister and killed people who had rendered him outstanding service. Altogether, hundreds of thousands of people perished during his reign. Yet, the most ingenious trick in the power struggle in the Chinese history was played by Zhao Kuang-yin at the founding of Song Dynasty. With a cup of wine, he released his once trusted generals of their military leadership:
Zhao Kuanyin, who had just been enthroned, held a cup of wine and said to the generals: thanks to your support, I've seized this throne in which I'm sitting today. However, I'm still so worried that I can't go to sleep.
Facing the puzzled generals, this founder of Song Dynasty continued: it's very simple. Who of you would not desire this dragon-headed throne?
The generals hurriedly replied: since it's already ordained by the divine heaven, who would dare to harbor this improper ambition?
The founder of Song Dynasty then said: certainly you wouldn't do that. But once your subordinates support you, you or you..., just as you are supporting me, who could resist such a temptation?
Hearing this, the generals became alarmed and panic-stricken.
Zhao Kuanyin continued: life is short and before you know it, you are already old and on your death-bed. Why don't you resign from the military service, buy a piece of land, build a nice house on it and enjoy the rest of your life there? In this case, the emperor and the subjects leave each other in peace. What do you think?
On the second day, all the generals resigned.
Thus, without generals, Zhao Kuanyin would rather suffer one defeat after another and pay a huge tribute to the Huns than have anybody inside the kingdom to pose a threat to his rule.
History like this is actually not far from us. Soon after the People's Republic of China was founded, Ma Zedong began to purge people with different opinions and most of them who had delivered an outstanding service through life and death in seizing the political power for him came to a disgraceful end.
China was under the rule of foreigners during Yuan and Qing Dynasties which started relatively peacefully. Why would the Chinese not tolerate only their fellow Chinese?
Sinners served as gods of righteousness; men with limitations seized limitless power; pitifully insignificant men became supreme rulers that defied all; and men who did not know God became gods of men. Isn't this the source where all the tragedies of China originate?
When they had had enough of fighting and carnage, the second and the third generations of each dynasty would have a short-lived peace. Again, this peace would last only for a short while. Starting from the fourth and the fifth generations, chaos and mutual butchery would erupt again till the whole land was disintegrated to pieces and blood flowed like rivers.
The Earlier Han was under the rule of Wenjing. Then there was Emperor Wu Di of Han Dynasty who ran amuck with his evil acts. After that, Wang Mang usurped the power and started twenty years of tangled warfare until two thirds of the Chinese population perished.
The Later Han first saw recovery under Guang Wu. Then there were contentions between the royal family members and the eunuchs. They completely killed each other several times and a great civil war ensued that lasted three hundred years.
The Earlier Tang enjoyed the rule of Zhenguan. Then Empress Wu Zetian usurped the power, resulting in a 9-year in-court slaughter.
The Later Tang started well. Then Tang Xuanzong became enamored of the courtesan Yang Guifei and let the administration of the government fall into decay, precipitating a 9-year An Lushan Rebellion and the Chinese population was reduced from 9 million to 2 million with three quarters of them perishing in wars.
Ming Dynasty enjoyed a short respite under Zhu Di. Then the country came to be ruled by fatuous emperors, treacherous court officials and eunuchs. Tyranny reached its climax and people's livelihood became unbearable until Li Zicheng rebelled and Wu Sangui directed the Qing army into China and initiated a tangled warfare lasting half a century.
Qing Dynasty had the so-called Grand Rule under Kang Xi and Qian Long. What followed was corruption, degeneration and gasping for life until the Western Powers invaded and caused a series of wars lasting a hundred years.
In the present day, Chiang Ching-kuo and Lee Teng-hui, the second and the third generations of leaders in the Republic of China, revitalized Taiwan while Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin, the second and the third generations of leaders in the People's Republic of China, opened up mainland China. But what comes next? What will the fourth and the fifth generations of leaders do?
In the past two thousand and five hundred years since the Period of Spring and Autumn, the time where there were no territorial divisions or wars is less a thousand years long. In the thousand years of dictatorial unification, the time in which there were real peace and harmony is actually less than three hundred years long. Other than this, we have only had the malady of nepotism, damage caused by eunuchs, factionalism, Fanzhen armed separatism, spying agencies, bloody terror, cruel forced labor, coup d'etats, mutinies, mass uprisings, literary inquisitions, Anti-Rightist Movement, Cultural Revolution, April 5 Incident and June 4 Incident. The Chinese are still living in the bleak helplessness of internal slaughter and mutual abuse.
(Different colors in the tables below indicate different periods. Except a few eras of great rules which are in sky blue, the rest is a mixture of red which stands for wars and black which stands for terror. The eras of great rules are marked by big characters.)
Oh, China! Why? Why did great rules following great chaos last but a twinkling of an eye and then the whole country was plunged into great chaos again? Why can you never enjoy peace and order for long?
The absence of faith leads us astray on our journey of life, for human beings are fragile. Everyone is fragile. Everyone lives in doubt. That is the reason why there are so many confusing religions. They demonstrate a need for faith. As in actuality we do not have a faith in God, we feel vulnerable and a need for a great power to be relied on, a need for somebody to take care of us. We copied what we have in our earthly world, earthly politics, into the other world. For examples, those kings, emperors, and tyrants have the ultimate power. People feel the impact of their power, so we call it “burning power”. That power can burn you finger if you touch it. With such a great power, one can kill. Not only can he kill ordinary people, he can transform the world, and one can create a god. The Christian God created the human world, but Chinese god was created by political power.
Historical facts, rather than any people or theories, have once again demonstrated to us: as long as China depends on man for rule, defies laws of heaven; as long as the rulers cover the light of heaven and are sacrilegious to God as always; as long as the sons and daughters of the Land of God turn their eyes away from respect for God and His love, as long as the sinners still behave like gods of righteousness and men with limitations still hold limitless power, what would happen even if China had achieved stability and became a powerful nation? Ming Dynasty achieved stability, but chaos soon followed. Tang Dynasty became powerful, but it declined and eventually crumbled.
Spring flowers and autumn moon,
When will these come to an end?
Who knows how many things of bygone days are buried?
Last night breeze of the spring again blew through the small tower house,
I could not bear to see the desolate homeland in the moonlight.
Carved balustrades and jade stairs should still be there,
Except that the color of the beauty's face may have changed.
May I ask how much sorrow there could ever be?
It's just like a river flowing eastward in spring.
This immortal poem "The Beautiful Lady Yu" by Li Yu from Tang Dynasty is clearly referring to China's plight. Every Chinese can find in these pathetic and touching lines the melancholy and helplessness in his own heart.
The Chinese butchered their fellow Chinese. The Chinese conspired against the fellow Chinese. They abused each other and they governed their own kind in dictatorship, until they were tired out, panted for breath and provided the foreign invaders an opportunity to ravage China and lay it in waste. Starting from Song Dynasty, Qidan, Nuzhen, Mongols and Manchurians respectively overran and subsequently lorded it over this Chinese empire. For a time, Ming Dynasty took it away from the foreigners, but the internal butchery and the mutual abuse among the Chinese became all the more brutal.
The history of the Chinese people has witnessed either self-abuse or abuse at the hands of other nations. It was either terror or hatred, capitulationism or nationalism. My fellow countrymen! Is this the only pattern you can follow?
China has not had a shortage of reformers. We have had Shang Yang, Wang Anshi, Zhang Juzheng. Yet, for their feats, they all came to a miserable end.
China also has not had a shortage of righteous people, yet Yang Jiye, Yue Fei, Yu Qian all came to a disgraceful end.
China again has not had a shortage of revolutionaries---Zhu Yuanzhang, Li Zicheng, Mao Zedong. Yet everyone of them was just as corrupt and autocratic as their own enemies.
China has not had a shortage of people of introspection, either. Yet, Confucius, Zhu Xi and Wang Yangming were all like a colored balloon blown here and there with the bloody rain and gory wind and couldn't be themselves.
China has not had a shortage of authorities. Of over six hundred sons of heaven, about half of them were driven from power and the other half came to an ignominious end. Of these, half of them were foreigners which the Chinese contemptuously call "barbarian outlanders."
In the long history of two thousand and five hundred years, China has produced all types of people. The only things missing are God, piety, repentance and the common respect for heavenly father and His fatherly love.
Ah, my Land of God! It seems you did not have a blue sky and the sunlight. Your dim and grim horizon is filled with vying orphans encountering each other on a narrow path. Locked in this 2-dimensional space without transcendence or sublimation, narrow self-closure is inevitable. Under such a circumstance, fighting among men, governing among men are inevitable. Also inevitable is the fighting inside the home nest. So are the enmity and hatred. What follows as inevitable are disbelief in eternal righteousness, human rights endowed by God, equality and universal love. Li Zehou, the contemporary thinker, invented an euphemism "practical rationality" for this undisguised utilitarianism and philistinism where one serves whoever can give him better material benefits.
Oh, China! Since you firmly believe there is no God of righteousness, so you give a full rein to the sinning men with limitations in their mutual slaughter, self-abuse and their abandonment in despair and hopelessness. Since you firmly believe mankind does not share a common holy nature, you then let the practical rationality where one believes "conscience cannot serve as food" flood and consequently devastate this entire Land of God. Since you believe there is no savior except yourselves, you then have to be bogged down again and again in the ocean of bitterness, sea of fire and pool of blood made by yourselves.
I look for what I miss,
I know not what it is:
I feel so sad, so drear,
So lonely, without cheer.
Oh! what can I do with a grief
My anxious heart is broken and I'm tipsy for no apparent reasons
Before the wine is served, my tears flow down like a river.
Oh, China! Your history is by no means the basis for you to get stuck in the old rut and seek temporary ease and comfort at the expense of principles. On the contrary, history is a bloody whip in the hand of God that whips your soul all the time until you cleanse your heart from sin, cast off your old self and take on a new one, until you raise up your head from the dim horizon to look up at the deep and blue sky.