Throughout Chinese imperial history, Chinese rule could be described as both paternalistic and deferential in regards to the relationship between the ruling dynasty and the peasantry. The period of political focus will be from the first dynasty to the last; and this can be regarded as paternalistic as the Emperor was a father figure and head of the nation responsible for the welfare of his citizens. When the Emperor and ruling dynasty failed in its duties as a force of paternalism, inevitably this lead to rebellion and Civil War. Therefore, during periods of strife, a new dynasty was forged and developed into one capable of claiming the mantle of the mandate of heaven. Chinese politics can also be viewed as deferential because without the support of the people being subservient and loyal to the ruling dynasty there would be rebellion and civil war. As long as the ruling Emperor could be paternalistic towards the citizens, the dynasty would prosper. The objective of this paper is to describe whether or not Chinese politics was paternalistic or deferential during imperial Chinese history from the founding of the Qin dynasty and the unification of China, to the fall of the last imperial dynasties in 1911, which was destroyed during the Chinese revolution.
The first recognised Emperor of China, or rather the first Emperor, is viewed as the first unifier of China after the divisions of the warring states period. Shi Huangdi was the founder of China’s first empire, the Qin, but within three generations the Qin dynasty was destroyed and replaced by the first Han Emperor, Liu Bang, in 210BC after over 4 years of rebellion. The replacement of one dynasty over another, after only three generations in power, could be viewed as un-paternalistic and un-deferential however with an understanding of traditional Chinese culture, it can be viewed as quite the opposite: the Qin lost, “in Confucian terms, legitimacy now lay firmly with the anti-Qin forces and would continue to do so throughout the next seven years of civil war.” The Qin lost legitimacy partly due to internal strife and the alleged poisoning of the first Qin Emperor Shi Huange and the assassination of the Emperor’s designated heir, who was replaced by the second Qin Emperor Huhai and the plot that successfully killed the first Qin Emperor’s designated heir “was then charged with treason and, in forged orders from his father, commanded to commit suicide-which, being a truly filial son he did.” With internal strife within the royal dynasty and the rebellion of Lui Bang saw that China “envisioned a world in which China, or rather its ruling dynasty, the bearer of the mandate of heaven to control mankind, were the sole legitimate possession of unquestioned authority…”. This is relevant as it means that when the bearer of the mandate of heaven, or Dao, lost support from peasantry, they also lost the right to rule either through tyrannical acts and acting in a manner which made a dynasty unworthy of the mandate of heaven. This lead to the loss of the mandate of heaven, which lead to the loss of legitimacy, which in turn meant the dynasty could be toppled or replaced. The Han dynasty replaced the Qin dynasty after the the Qin lost the mandate of heaven. The decline and fall of the Qin’s Emperors and the start of a new Han dynasty demonstrates an act of paternalism and deferential in Chinese politics from the first Emperor to the last. This can be viewed as such because the transition from one Imperial family to another is caused by the need of the bearer of the mandate of heaven to act paternalistically towards their citizens in order to maintain power. In return the populous would be differential to the ruling elite providing they fulfil the obligations as a son of heaven.
There was a decline and fall of the Han dynasty, which had endured from 206BC to 220AD when the last Han Emperor Han Xiandi abdicated and the three kingdoms error began with “the yellow turbans and other popular rebellion of the 180s and the decades of civil conflict and near anarchy which followed them finally destroyed both the effective power and the authority of the Han government.”
though officially the three kingdoms error dates from the abdication in 220 A.D. to 265 A.D. with the fall of Wu dynasty and reunification under the Jing dynasty from 265AD to 420AD. The turmoil of the late Han dynasties with the yellow turban rebellion of 184 and Dong Zhuo’s seizure of the Emperor in 189 and the coalition that defeated him in 190, demonstrate the decline and chronic weakness exacerbated by the successive succession crisis. That was not resolved until “Han Xiandi, the younger boy would reign, if not rule, unchallenged for the next thirty years (189-220).” the week ruler ship of the late Han emperors more correctly child emperors that what incapable of ruler ship led to civil war which lasted nearly hundred years until the end of the three kingdoms error this conflict can be viewed as paternalistic and deferential, this is due to the Confucius Society and nature of Chinese culture which is hierarchical and requires a strong Emperor to rule his people. The failure to have firm leadership in the latter days of the Han dynasties partly caused by a chronic succession crisis led to. “Heavens’s Mandate had broken cover; the chase was on.” With the failure of the late Han dynasty to maintain a firm grip on unruly warlords led to a period of warring warlords that lasted from 189 to the three kingdoms error led by three respected dynasties in the North Wei and in the south Shu Han and Wu. These three-respected dynasty’s battle for the mandate of heaven which the struggle for dominance of China can be purely viewed to an extent as one of paternalism and parental ism because the son of heaven the holder of the mandate of heaven has a responsibility to the realm, therefore Chinese politics from the first Emperor to the last can still be viewed during the decline of the Han dynasty and during the three kingdoms period as paternalistic and deferential. This is because no Imperial ruler can rule China without the support of the people which believe in the mandate of heaven and without the mandate any Imperial Dynasty is viewed as illegitimate and is vulnerable. This is one reason why T’cao T’cao founder of the Wei Dynasty never declared himself Emperor while Han Xiandi was his captive and the reason why it was until T’cao T’cao air T’cao Pi forced abdication in 220 A.D.
The era of the Tang dynasty from 618 A.D. to 907 A.D. can be viewed as paternalistic and deferential because every Chinese dynasty including the last the Qing dynasty have two things that are eternally in common. They are the traditional Confucius views that favours ability and the capability of one to conduct “…Confucian virtues constituting good nature-knowledge… conspicuously viewed in terms of practical knowledge.” With the second being the only continuity with each Imperial dynasty is the mandate of heaven and been passed from dynasty to dynasty either through rebellion or conquest for instance the founder of the Tang dynasty rebelled against “…Sui in 613, the future Tang founder, Li Yuan, was a garrison commander in Taiyan.” Then his sons Li Shimin and Li Jianchenge continued the family’s domination by conquering the fragmented empires until the Tang dynasty dominated China. A further away the Chinese politics from the first Emperor to last can be viewed as parent and paternalistic can be seen from the events of Empress Wu zhong te who dominated the Tang Imperial court in the 680s and “In 690 she placed the Tang with her own Zhou dynasty before being overthrown in 705”with the return of the Tang dynasty to power led to ineffective rule under Emperor Zhongzong Lorraine who reign for five years and was replaced by “Emperor Xuanzong took control in 712, and his long reign marked the Tang’s apogee. However, his negligence led to the An Lushan rebellion in 756, from which the dynasty never fully recovered.” The decline of the Tang dynasty can be interpreted as link to paternalistic and deferential viewpoints it comes to Chinese politics from the first Emperor to the last because, when an emperor fails to demonstrate virtue and capability in governance and fulfil their responsibilities as a parental figure within the Empire. The dynasty falls into decay and disrepute when Emperor cannot for fill their obligations as holder of the mandate of heaven which in turn will eventually lead to rebellion and creation of new dynasty to function in a parental manner to the Chinese populous that will be deferential providing an Emperor is successful in governing the realm.
China under the Mongol conquests of Genghis Khan military campaigns meant that;
“For a quarter of a century there after, northern China suffered endemic warfare and administrative chaos. At the end of the China in 1207, its Empire had had a population of about 53 million, at a time when China as a whole is usually fought have had between 110 million and 120 million people. By the end of that century in 1290, the total registered population of China had fallen to less than 60 million and remained at that level in the late 14th century under the early Ming.”
however even under Mongol onslaught the Chinese politics can still be described as paternalistic and deferential because the Mongols remained in power until 1368 and Mongol imperial power under Kublai Khan was strengthened under the Yuan dynasty after the consolidation of China in 1279 when the Song dynasty was conquered. With these historic events, paternalistic and deferential characteristics of Chinese politics from the first Emperor to the last can be understood because of the differential nature of Chinese politics during Chinese imperial history can be interpreted. As such because under Kublai Khan and influence of his mother Sorghaghtani Bek who shared her political ideas and methods of governorship which can be seen in “Her political genius is perhaps best demonstrated by her religious tolerance. Though she was herself a Nestorian Christian, and she did not discriminate against the other religions in the Mongol realm, and even patronized Buddhism and Taoism to win favour with her Chinese subjects.” With education provided to Kublai Khan as well as the Mongol concept of all under heaven which is partly the idea of the mandate of heaven combined with the concept of global conquest. Therefore, with an exception of Chinese culture which led to accusations by his fellow Mongols of going native and in 1261 Kublai Khan found the office for the stimulation of agriculture which aim was to replenish the Chinese economy having suffered decades of war. With the efforts of the Yuan to restore China to pre-Mongol conquest levels of population and economic activity show a strong strand of paternalism in governance as well as a strong deferential attitude Chinese peasants had for their Mongol overlords. However, there is limits and the Black death in the 14th century which sparked rebellion and the level of snowfall the 14th century on each consecutive year led to starvation due to devastation of crops because “No fewer than 36 years in the 14th century had exceptional severe winters, more than in any other century record”. This demonstrates that there is a limit to the paternalistic and deferential nature to the peasants towards the Emperor and ruling dynasty because natural disasters and failures of governance can be seen as the holder of the mandate of heaven losing favour of heaven and therefore no longer worthy of the mandate. Which in such circumstances inevitably lead to rebellion and war which led to the collapse of the Yuan in 1368 and the final Chinese dynasty the Ming that lasted until 1644.
China’s last imperial dynasty the Qing which was created after the Manchu conquest of 1644 with which was help by rebellion against the Ming dynasty and the last Ming Emperor committing suicide and hanging himself in his Imperial Gardens. The Qing dynasty and Imperial politics from the first Emperor to the last during the Qing dynasty can still be viewed as mainly paternalistic and deferential when it comes to politics. This can be seen from the “Chinese belief that a good ruler would induce foreigners to submit and to accept China’s supremacy.” Therefore the Chinese viewpoint of world politics remained one of a Middle Kingdom which dominated is region and all the so-called barbarian states, this can be represented in the MacArthur mission when the British in 1792. This is where a British ambassador was sent to secure our trade with the Chinese Emperor however there was no way Emperor would meet with a so-called barbarian on equal terms only as a tributary state not as equals. It was this miss understanding between European powers and Imperial China that led to conflicts in the opium Wars in the 1830s and 1840s which further weakened Qing dynasty. Though the Qing did recover somewhat under Empress dowager Cixi who founded China’s modern Foreign Ministry and “Cixi was full of innovative ideas”. The late Qing dynasty demonstrates the paternalism and deferential attitudes displayed in Chinese politics because even when the Empire fails to reform and modernise to a great extent with its European competitors and the power of growing Imperial Japan that defeated the Russians in the 1904/05. The Chinese continue to show respect towards the Emperor however the winds of history and the inability to form and evolve Emperor finally lead to its destruction in 1911 leaving the child Emperor Pu Yi as the last Emperor of China.
Overall this paper concludes that Chinese politics from the first Emperor to the last can best be described as paternalistic and deferential because politics in China during imperial history can be viewed as a balance or rather two faces of the same coin. This is because an emperor cannot remain in power unless he is paternalistic and fulfilling his duties as the holder of the mandate of heaven and the four fills Confucius values that dominate Chinese political culture. Secondly deferential is in is also important to the description of Chinese politics because without peasants supporting the Emperor it will lead to rebellion and Civil War and eventually the creation of a new dynasty. The two definitions of Imperial politics being deferential and paternalistic are accurate when it comes to explaining the Emperor and Imperial China and cannot be understood without first understanding them.
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