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Two— The Medieval "Community" and Aristocratic Society
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The States of the Northern Dynasties, Sui, and T'ang, and the "Community" Ethic

The Han Chinese Aristocracy and the Regimes of the Five Barbarians and the Northern Wei. We have thus far concentrated our discussion on the autonomy of the Han Chinese aristocracy as a ruling class in North China. Now we need to delve more deeply into the history of their relationship to state power. Under the regimes of the "Five Barbarians"—non-Chinese peoples of the Northern dynasties—their position as a ruling class was not fully established in the political sense. Especially from the period of the Five Barbarians through the first half of the Northern Wei, the state was organized in a dual Han-barbarian structure in which each race was put under a


respective ruling system. The non-Chinese peoples still retained the vestiges of their tribal "community"' from the era when they had lived outside China's borders; this was particularly evident in the changes in the organization of their military, which made up the core of state power.[54]

When a state so heavily colored by its alien rulers came to rule the North China plain, it encompassed Han society under its control. The aristocrats who were the leaders in Han society naturally were appointed as officials. Some of these officials of aristocratic origin were active in central politics and on occasion became leaders of state, enjoying the full confidence of the sovereign. Examples would include Chang Pindp under Shih Lodq [274–333, founder of the Latter Chaodr dynasty], Wang Mengds under Fu Chiendt [338–385, head of the Former Ch'in],du and Ts'ui Hungdv and Ts'ui Haodw (father and son) in the early years of the Northern Wei. Many Han Chinese aristocrats became high or subordinate officials in their native districts and spent their lives in their local villages.

The bureaucratization of Han aristocrats, however, did not mean that they participated in state power in a completely subjective manner, for sovereignty remained in the hands of the non-Chinese. The "slip of the pen" incident involving Ts'ui Hao, which occurred during the reign of Emperor T'ai-wudx [r. 424–452] of the Northern Wei, made this realization bitterly clear for Han aristocrats. The incident originated when the Northern Wei national history being written by Ts'ui Hao and others incurred the animosity of the aliens. It was said that Ts'ui had been actively maneuvering to reorganize the Northern Wei into an aristocratic state, and this invited a barbarian reaction. As is well known, along with the steady progress made in the unification of North China in the time of Emperor T'ai-wu, Han aristocrats entered political circles in large numbers. The absolute confidence that the Emperor T'ai-wu placed in Ts'ui Hao caused the illusion to arise that a barbarian regime was now apparently being transformed into a Han-style aristocratic state. As a result, Ts'ui was executed (in 450) and those implicated extended to the Ts'ui family and the Shantung aristocratic families related by marriage to them.

As this indicated, the political discrimination of barbarian and Han was strictly enforced in the unified Northern Wei state.


The political role of the barbarians in the Northern Wei state was primarily military. Troops at the center and in the localities consisted mostly of soldiers of barbarian roots. To non-Chinese fighters who achieved military successes there opened the road to civil officialdom. This point would lead one to believe that the structure of the state, at least in an overall sense, was not formed by an aristocratic system.

In the dozen or so years after T'ai-wu was assassinated by the eunuch Tsung Ai,dy bloodly secret feuds occurred within the Northern Wei imperial court. In this interval there was no external expansion. By the time Emperor Hsien-wendz [r. 466–471] had succeeded in annexing the Shantung region, it seems that the extent of contact between the Northern Wei state and Northern Chinese society was considerably deepened. Emperor Hsiao-wen'sea [r. 471–500] decisive moving of the capital to Lo-yang thereafter was apparently a result of these conditions, for earlier the government had inaugurated policies for structuring the agricultural society of North China. We see this in the early years of Hsiao-wen's reign when the Empress Wen-mingeb held control of the government with the creation of the "three chiefs" (san-chang )ec and equitable field (chün-t'ien )ed systems. These policies may reveal the connections at the time between the barbarian regime and the Han Chinese aristocrats.

The Equitable Field System and Aristocratic Ethics. The view has recently gained favor of looking at the equitable field system as an extension of the system of per capita land allocation (chi-k'ou shou-t'ien ),ee which flourished in the years of the unification wars under Emperor T'ai-wu.[55] My own view differs in no way from the notion of a linkage in the history of agricultural management policy of the Northern Wei state between per capita land allocation and the equitable field system. But the problem lies in what meaning we are to attach to this linkage. Many commentators have understood this as a state policy flexing its external muscles vis à vis Han aristocrats (and hence a policy to repress the Han aristocracy). There is also the position that sees this as a distinctly non-Chinese policy. What view are we to assume? Clearly, behind the system of per capita land allotment lay a policy for handling a con-


quered people under state power, known as the relocation policy. The equitable field system itself was a kind of policy to limit land ownership with the premise of state intervention. It can be assumed that the functions of this state power gave rise to these earlier perspectives, but this is still a rather simplistic understanding of the problem.

With the relocation policy that lay behind the system of per capita land allotment, the state moved the conquered people to strategic environs near the capital and put into effect centralized control over these areas. The per capita land allotment system supplied land to people in accordance with the labor power possessed by the migrant populace and looked toward the establishment of a self-cultivating peasantry as the basic structure for Han society. The principle of the equitable field system shared this conception in that "the land is to be used by all and no man will be idle." When we examine the essence of these conceptions, a linkage is forged with the broad world of the self-managing peasantry.

The reconstruction of this world had been a problem since the time of Tung Chung-shu in the Former Han. Its aims through the policy to limit large landholdings had always ended in failure throughout the Han. A new characteristic from the Three Kingdoms on was to limit large landholdings and, as well, to institute a land allocation policy for the small peasantry. The linkage from "military colonies" (t'un-t'ien ),ef to "lands in possession" (chan-t'ien ) and "assessment lands" (k'e-t'ien ),[56] to the equitable field system testifies to this effect. The per capita land allotment system also, without a doubt, formed one part of this lineage.

What sort of social class gave rise to this string of policies? We know only that the name of the man who designed the equitable field system was Li An-shih,eg and we cannot overlook the fact that he came from the famous Li clan of Chao-chün. If we accept the view that the Six Dynasties aristocracy were large landowners, then we face a logical contradiction in that policies for limitations on large landholdings, like the equitable field system, were initiated by this very aristocracy. As we have seen thus far, however, the class base of the Six Dynasties aristocracy was not to be directly found here. Rather, it lay in an ethical bond with a society in which the self-managing peas-


antry were the backbone of the agricultural village. In other words, there was a mutual relationship between the moral ties of the aristocracy to the outside world and the societal reputation produced thereby. Aristocrats who did have large landholdings were deeply troubled for falling into rivalries with the self-cultivating peasants (contesting the people for profit), for they were supposed to function as an organ of relief for the people. The stress on justice over wealth, which was the proper literati bearing—namely, the life ethic of frugality, self-restraint, relief, and disinterest in one's own property—was not unconnected to landownership.

Thus, the principles of the equitable field system and the concept of landownership in the aristocratic ethic did not contradict each other but even shared a certain spirit. What were these large landholdings that the equitable field system tried to restrain? It was management over large tracts of land aimed at expanding the extravagances and profits of large landowners. This management established competitive relations with the self-cultivating peasantry and wiped them out, causing a polarization of the annexers and the propertyless. This circumstance not only ran contrary to the literati ethic but it also gave birth to an unbalanced relationship between land and labor power, resulting in an irrational state economy.

To say that those responsible for managing large landholdings did not include aristocrats would be an exaggeration. Cases in which the aristocratic class forgot the literati ethic on which it was founded and sought personal economic profit were not rare. Furthermore, this trend seems to have been rather closely linked to a tendency toward stabilizing the position of the aristocracy with the development of a system of pedigree. Gradually, they moved away from their original class base.

The equitable field system may then be seen as the original economic ethic of the aristocracy being systematized as a state land law under the state control of a barbarian people. In short, at the stage prior to Emperor Hsiao-wen's policy for aristocratic pedigree, there was ample room for the implementation of joint Han-barbarian government on the basis of this common principle.

The Base Structure of the Sui-T'ang Reunification. The "sin-


ification" policy during the period of Emperor Hsiao-wen's personal rule, however, aimed at changing the very nature of the state. With the withdrawal of earlier racial discrimination, the state attempted to organize a bureaucratic structure by differentiating scholars and commoners. Thus, the aristocratic system permeated state power, and the influence of Southern dynastic pedigrees was strongly felt as a consequence. The Han aristocracy adhered to state power, which completed the institutionalization of the aristocracy. The ruling position of the aristocratic class was guaranteed and fixed by the power of the state. Yet, in one regard this caused a deterioration of the aristocracy. Characteristic of the years after Hsiao-wen's reign were many cases where a decline in the literati ethic caused public rebuke of Han aristocrats.

Hsiao-wen's policy, though, proved unable conclusively to make the Han aristocracy bear the brunt of state power, for at this same time the main military force remained officers and troops of non-Chinese stock. Thus, when the Han aristocracy gained a preeminent political position, the non-Chinese military men were faced with a basic dilemma. Military service had carried with it the honor of being the cornerstone of the state; it had opened up opportunities for bureacratic advancement. But now, it only meant being a running dog of the Han Chinese aristocracy.

I have already discussed in detail elsewhere[57] how the explosion of this dilemma brought about the revolt of the central imperial guard and the uprising of the Six Commanderies, caused riots of the military households attached to the commanderies, and brought about the dissolution of the Northern Wei. When these uprisings occurred, the Han aristocrats tried to defend their positions by organizing militarily with local villagers. As noted earlier, the relationship between them and the local people (local militias) might best be seen as having made the everyday relationship of aristocrat and villager function militarily now. Thus, when the aristocratic class could no longer rely on the regime, they tried to confront the crisis with a latent power which they still held. The "communitarian" universe that formed the base structure for medieval Chinese society once again revealed itself quite clearly now.

As this development became institutionalized as a state structure, we can see its main traits. The fu-pingeh (militia)


system of the Western Wei, formed with the strong base of local blocs, provided the military backbone subsequently for the Northern Chou, Sui, and T'ang states, and demonstrated its tremendous might in the task of reunifying China. It had a qualitatively similar importance to the equitable field system, created with the principle of the aristocratic ethic in mind, which systematized agricultural management of these later unified states.

In order for the state institutionalization of the aristocratic ethic to be realized, there were generated various changes within the social structure of aristocratic rule. To describe this new type of aristocracy oriented toward these changes, I have used such expressions as the principle of stress on talent, new aristocratism, and enlightened aristocratism.[58] This new trend can be seen as well in the structure of these local militia bands, but of course this whole trend was later institutionalized in the examination system from the Sui dynasty onward.

Thus far, scholars have understood the flow toward China's reunification, which takes its source from the later Northern Dynasties, as the power of the state keeping the aristocrats down. No clear answer has been given to the question of the class nature of the ruling structure of this state. My own view on the Sui-T'ang empire comes back to the point that "communitarian" society of both Han and barbarian merged through mutual penetration and created a state based on these new aristocratic principles. This was a crystallization of the medieval "community" and in this sense may be regarded as the fulfillment of the medieval state. The direct root form of this completed state was the Western Wei and Northern Chou. The principle of the Western Wei's "Liu-t'iao chao-shu"ei (Edict of six articles) vividly indicated how the state worked to diffuse through itself the aristocratic ethos.[59]


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