WISE TALK by YK Kwan Copyright © 2006
all copyrights reserved
The Origin of Tao-te-Ching ( 道德經 )
When one talks about Chinese culture, there is nothing intrinsically more
Chinese than Tao and Confucianism. Whether they are a religion or
philosophy or a school of teaching can be a matter of deep analysis and
discussion, however, what is certain is that they existed in China for over
two and a half millennia and have exerted the greatest influence on Chinese
culture and the way of thought of the Chinese, no matter they are in China
proper or elsewhere in the world.
Today we want to talk about the origin of Tao-te-Ching (or Dao-De-Jing)
which was attributed to Lao-Tse 老子(or Lao Tsu). The title of this work
can be translated as the Book of Tao. Tao 道 is usually translated as “Way”,
which is close to the meaning of the word in its religious sense used by
Jesus in: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life”. It is nothing much more
than 5000 characters in its Chinese version and is one of the shortest of
all great scriptures of the world.
Lao-Tse was born c. 604 BC in the Eastern Zhou 東周 period, also known
as the “Spring and Autumn Era”春秋時代 by historians because of the title
of a historical record edited by Confucius 孔夫子(Kong Fu Zi) called “Spring
and Autumn Annal” 春秋 covering the period 722-481 BC. Lao-Tse was a
contemporary of Confucius but somewhat fifty years to his senior. If you
want to compare his time with European history, it would help you to know
that Alexander the Great of Macedonia was born about two and half
centuries after Lao-Tse.
Nothing can be more philosophical than to discuss the contents of Tao-te-
Ching which had been translated into all major modern languages all over
the world, but today we begin by looking at the lighter side of things, the
writing of the book itself.
So the legend goes like this. One day Lao-Tse decided that it was his time
to retire and he left his post as Master of the State Temple, traveling
westward in the direction of some remote areas. There was at the time a
minor official whose name was oblivious and he was only a keeper of one
of the city gates. Afterwards he became famous because of Tao-te-Ching
but was still only known as Kuan Yun-Zi 關尹子 (literally: Citygate, Official,
Mr.or Mr. Gate-Official). Towards that late afternoon, Kuan observed that
there was a rainbow-coloured piece of cloud drifting in his direction. He
understood that this must represent a sage of the highest order traveling
under it. So he waited for his eminent guest by the gate and when the sun
was about to set he was surprised to see only an elderly gentleman
approaching alone on the back of an ox.
Kuan met up the traveler and humbly enquired about his identity and where
he was heading, lest outward appearance deceived him. On understanding
his long service in the revered position in the State Temple and his new
retirement, this city-gate official politely asked him to stay the night there
at his quarters and start the journey the next day since it was getting dark
and there was no hurry to where he was going. In view of his humble
manners and sincere invitation, Lao-Tse agreed to stay the night.
In the course of a light supper under candle light in the quarters of the
gate-keeper, the two gentlemen had a pleasant conversation. Towards
the end, Kuan suggested something which actually changed the history of
cultural China forever.
“Before you retire to hermitage, why don’t you leave some words of
wisdom so posterity can benefit from it?”
“That can be done,” replied Lao-Tse. “ Since we have the entire night before
us, are you prepared to take down what I dictate?”
To that Kuan heartily agreed. So the two began their work earnestly and
before the night turned into dawn, Tao-te-Ching came into being, truly in five
talk one A
The Universe (宇宙觀)
When Dao de-jing was written two and a half millennia ago and subsequently
copied by hand they were not written on paper because paper was not
invented yet. They were in fact written on bamboo strips (for good preservation
and affordable cost). The medium used was not ink either because they
would not last since it might be smeared and lost when the surface became
wet. As you can imagine, it was logical to deduce that they were characters
carved on the surface of bamboo strips by carving knives. In order to have a
relatively flat surface to carve on, it was necessary to cut bamboo into thin
strips, each just sufficient to write one or two vertical lines.
And how do you turn the pages? Sorry readers, there were no “pages” just
“rolls” (卷). One roll is a number of bamboo strips joined together horizontally
by a string (in fact a strip of leather in order to last longer) running through a
small hole on the top of each bamboo strip(竹簡) and then rolled up into a
bundle and tied up on the outside by another sting. After frequent use and the
passage of time (a century or so) the leather strip joining the bamboo pieces
became rotten and on handling, the bamboo strips would disintegrate from a
broken string and fall into disarray. The user or copier might try to re-arrange
the order of the bamboo strips and could make a mistake, either through faulty
memory or wrong interpretation, resulting in bamboo strips being misplaced
(which is known as 錯簡). This was probably the state of affairs in which
copies of Dao-de-jing (Ddj) were found when they were being subsequently
copied again and again throughout the centuries. And it also explained why
there are today so many versions of Ddj each either differed with the rest by
minor variations or in some cases even with missing chapters or chapters in
In the last century, scholars have made many attempts to decipher the true
order of the text of Ddj and some are rather successful in coming up with a
more logical coherence of the contents, which are lacking in the old “authentic”
editions. One version of it had the text rearranged, rectified and translated
into English. It was published in Taiwan in 1953 under the title: “The works
of Lao Tzyy—Truth and Nature—popularly known as Daw-Der-Jing”
The old version is familiar to most of us beginning with 道可道, 非常道. 名可
名非常名, meaning that: “The way that may be told is not the everlasting
Way. The name that may be named is not the everlasting Name.” The
second line changed the theme and mentioned the universe starting from
“nothingness”.無名天地之始. 有名萬物之母, which may be translated as
“Nothingness is the name which preceded the universe. Existence is the
name for the mother of all things.
The new rearranged version starts Ddj not with a name but with the state of
things at the beginning of the universe (A text which was buried in the old
chapter 25 and 52). 有物混成, 先天地生. 寂兮寥兮, 獨立不改, 周行而不殆. 可以為
天下母. 天下有始, 以為天下母. 既得其母, 以知其子. 既知其子, 復守其母, 沒身不殆.
吾不知其名, 字之曰道. 強為之名, 曰大. 大曰逝. 逝曰遠. 遠曰反.
This can be translated as: “Something evolved from chaos which preceded
heaven and earth. It was inaudible and invisible. It was independent and
immutable. It continued without stopping. It may be regarded as the mother
of heaven and earth.”
“Heaven and earth had a beginning, this is the mother of all things. Once
this is known, the events that followed can be understood. When the events
are understood, we shall hold fast to the principles of the mother (of events)
and our life can be secure.”
“I do not know its name and call it “Dao” or “the Way”. If forced to describe
it, I would say it is great, it is active, it is far-reaching and cyclical.”
In the West, the most commonly accepted theory of the beginning of the
universe is the “Big Bang” theory, first described in the 1920’s by a young
Vatican priest who was also a scientist. With advanced technology and by
observing distant galaxies and the phenomena in the sky such as “super
nova” (超新星), “black holes”(黑洞) and “red-shift effect”(紅移), the Big Bang
theory has been becoming more plausible than when it was first suggested.
However, all the characteristics of such a theory are not inconsistent with
the description written by Lao Tsu (老子) 2500 years ago, regarding the
beginning of the universe. The modern theory suggests that immediately
after the Big Bang, there was chaos(“有物混成, 先天地生”) and the existing
universe was formed only after billions of years. The universe is nowadays
observed to be expanding and we do not know how far the universe can
reach. Is this
not “independent and immutable” (獨立不改), “never stopping” (周行而不殆),
and “great and active” (大曰逝. 逝曰遠)? There is not yet evidence that the
universe is contracting, but can we rule that out knowing that there are a
far greater number of black holes out there than we can realize? If it does
contract eventually, then it may prove that the universe can be “cyclical” (反).
Is it not amazing that a philosophical theory could postulate an unknown in
the so distant past, and also that science can, after thousands of years,
prove a theory accurate?
The Chinese written language
In the light of its simplified version
It was in the early 1950’s that the Chinese government promulgated
officially 3000 odd characters of the Chinese language in their simplified
form. It was shortly after the Communist Party took over power in China
There might be multiple purposes behind this decision. First it was New
China and they need a “new” language. By analogy, the Government needed
a new name, the People’s Republic of China in lieu of the old “Republic of
China”, which haunted the regime for over 20 years and it was until 1972 that
it was allowed back its seat in the United Nations. Had it not changed its
name, it would have taken the seat by right without any dispute among the
international community and Taiwan would not have been able to use that
name for so long, hiding the reality of independence behind the façade of
names. Anyway that is another subject matter.
Another aspect which is less controversial is the spoken language now
known as Putonghua, 普 通 話 meaning common language. There was little
change apart from the name which was known as Mandarin (in Qing
Dynasty 清 朝 ) and Guoyu 國 語 or national language as from 1919 largely
as a result of the May 4th Movement 五 四 運 動.
The written language had little problem all along, that is, since its unification
in the days of the Qin Dynasty 秦朝 (c.200 BC). Li Shu 隸 書 or clerical script
was prevalent at the time. Throughout the various dynasties and empires,
despite being conquered by the Mongols in 1279 AD and again by the
Manchus in 1644 AD, which were foreign tribes writing and speaking a
different language, China’s ancient language virtually remained intact, which
is a great blessing beyond our comprehension. Had we been speaking the
Mongol dialect and writing the Manchurian writings for the past 8 to 3
centuries, hardly anyone would remain today to understand the ancient
language of China and draw wisdom at our fingertips from its culture and philosophies.
Lao-Tse 老 子 or Confucius 孔 夫 子 would be unknown to us.
By looking at the ancient inscriptions found in Egypt, Mesopotamia, and
India, one cannot but wonder how kind destiny has been to Chinese culture.
Ask how many Egyptians are there today who can interpret their ancient
language in the era of pharaoh Khafre 2550 BC (portrait of the Sphinx).
If we were to discard our language, sever our present from our past, we
would be throwing away priceless treasures into the sea, which no amount
of modern technology in the generations to come, can revive or compensate.
From the clerical script, Chinese writing developed into its regular script
正 楷 which lasted two millennial up to the present. That style culminated
as early as 300 AD and was represented fully by the celebrated calligrapher
Wang Xi-zhi 王 羲 之, particularly in his “Essay on the Orchid Pavilion” 蘭 亭 序
written in 353. Calligraphy subsequently flourished in the “running” style 行 書
and “cursive” style 草 書, which are still practised today. However, the regular
script maintained its center role as the “official” form of characters as
appearing in lexicons, dictionaries and in printings.
Going back to where we begin, the simplified version of Chinese
characters introduced in the 1950’s was estimated only at a mere
10% of the total glossary of over 30,000 characters, although some
are definitely ancient and fall into disuse and becoming obsolete. However,
an ordinary person is thought to be able to read a daily newspaper with a
vocabulary of 1000 characters without any difficulty.
In the 50’s, China has a peasant population of over 80% of the entire country
and most of them were illiterate and under poverty level. It became necessary
for the new government to teach them some basic skills to read and to survive.
Hence the most convincing reason to make the language simple for them.
So simple that it almost became a sign with a few strokes. So simple that
“guard” 衛 becomes 卫 and “hygiene” 衛 生 becomes 卫 生 “.Factory” 廠
becomes 厂 . “Guang” 廣 becomes 广.
Nowadays, the national GDP of the country is catching up with that of
UK and the percentage of peasants who are considered to be below the
poverty level is put at 10%. Imagine this improvement in 50 years, involving
some 900 million people, the difference between 80% and 10%. Last year,
the Chinese government announced that tax for the entire peasantry
population would be waived, which is undoubtedly the real “Great leap
forward”. Never in China, for all the ages and dynasties, was there a
government that did not impose tax on the agricultural population. It was
also announced that their children’s education shall be free. So eventually
we are looking at a wealthier and more educated population in China.
Another aspect half a century ago was that there were no photo-copying
machines in China and simplified writing did make hand- copying faster.
However, with the advent of modern technology, this advantage is becoming
slim. Furthermore, the widespread use of computers had made writing even
easier. Assisted by computers, writers do not have to use pen anymore.
They just key in the few keys required and the right character will appear.
Whether the character consists of 15 strokes or five strokes makes no
difference at all. Therefore, on the consideration of speed in writing, the
advantage of simplified strokes is gone forever.
The use of the simplified version has been creating considerable confusion
among the intellectuals to say the least. The history of China’s culture has
shown how its writings had developed. As a culture develops, so do its
thinking and philosophies. To match these, writings tend to develop with a
corresponding complexity and with new phraseology. Seldom is the case
that a culture can advance with progress while its language can be
simplified in a regressive manner, which seems to be China’s present trend.
For example, “Hou” 后 can mean “queen” 后 and also “later”后 來.. 聖 誕
becomes 圣 诞. Is that not confusing and “strange” 怪? With only the
knowledge of simplified Chinese, the world of classical Chinese literature
would be lost to a present day student. One would not be able to understand
the meaning represented by the ancient classics of China, not to mention the
inability to appreciate the various styles of fascinating Chinese calligraphy.
With all things considered, one would obviously arrive at the conclusion
that the Chinese language should be allowed to develop and evolve on its
own as society progresses, and not to be arbitrarily regulated in a way
that inhibits the natural development and continuity of such a beautiful
language. We do not want to be a Chinese looking at Chinese classics
as an Egyptian today starring with bewilderment at his ancient language.
Kong Fu-Zi (孔夫子) (c.551-479BC)
also known as Confucius
Kong Qiu (孔丘) or Kong Zhung-ni (孔仲尼) was widely known as Kong
Fu-zi (孔夫子), meaning “Master Kong”; Confucius is a Latinized version
of the name.
Kong’s father held the rank of “da fu” (大夫) or senior court official and was
believed to be a descendant from the royal family of Shang (商), a former
Confucius’s mother was a concubine and by the time Confucius was born,
his father was 70 and he died a few years later. Before dying, his father left Confucius
his ceremonial sword to the custody of his mother. The meaning
of this was that Confucius should inherit his rank as “da fu”, otherwise he
would be just a commoner because he was not in the line of traditional
inheritance for reason that his mother was a concubine.
Confucius had an elder brother begotten by the first wife of his father and he
was much more senior in age. However, he had a handicapped leg and was
a lame. One day he came to the mother of Confucius and asked her for the
sword left by his father, claiming that as the eldest son, this was his birthright.
Confucius’ mother did not contest and handed over the sword to him. Confucius
was both perplexed and displeased. The sword and the title that went with it
were given to him by his father. Now he had none.
Confucius’ mother later explained, “You are young and intelligent and with
some perseverance in learning you can make greater achievements than
your late father. This, you can do better without the sword and the title. On
the other hand, your elder brother is only of mediocre aptitude and physically
hampered. Without the sword and the title, there is little chance that he can
achieve anything. These are the reasons for my decision in giving up the
sword to him.”
Confucius studied hard throughout his learning age and was tutored by friends
of his father who were holding high offices. As a young man Confucius became
well known for his profound knowledge in literature, court rituals and upright
character. He was appointed a granary overseer at a very young age.
Afterwards he married and his first son was born. The Prince sent to him as
a present, a bowl with two live carps in water. In honour of this, Confucius
named his son Li 鲤 (carp).
Before long Confucius was disillusioned in court politics and became a teacher.
He would take anyone as a student however poor he was, provided he was
keen to learn. At a time, historians recorded that his number of students
reached three thousand.
Confucius’ sought to be an administrator but never met with any great
appointment with success. Instead, one of his students served as a
government magistrate to a locality and within a short time there was
tranquility and harmonious living. Even the countryside was rife with music.
To that, while visiting the place, Confucius commented on a joyous note,
saying, “Why need an abattoir knife to cut up chicken?” (割雞焉用牛刀) The
implication being his student could be put to much better service by the State
in a more important appointment.
Confucius’ teaching was keen on learning and self-discipline. He said, “At
fifteen, I had my mind bent on learning. At thirty, I stood firm. At forty, I
had no doubts. At fifty, I knew the decrees of Heaven. At sixty, my ear was
an obedient organ for the reception of truth. At seventy, I could follow what
my heart desired, without transgressing what was right.”
He did not impose any discrimination on class in learning, as it was
prevalent in those days whether one was “of rank” or a commoner. His only
differentiation was the desire and willingness to learn. He said, “Those who
are born to possess knowledge, these are the highest class. Those who
readily possess knowledge by learning, these are the second class. Those
who are dull and yet still bring themselves to learn, these are the next class.
As to those who are dull but yet refuse to learn, these are the lowest class.”
His teaching was not purely philosophical and therefore lost in everyday
application. Learning, according to him, should be manifested in many
aspects. He said, “If a man withdraws his mind from the love of beauty,
and applies it as sincerely to the love of the virtuous; if in serving his parents,
he can exert his utmost strength; if in serving his prince, he can devote his
life; if in his intercourse with his friends, his words are sincere – although
men say that he has not learned, I will certainly say that he has.”
His teaching on self-discipline and virtue cumulated in the ideological
concept of “man of perfection” Jun Zi (君子) or “gentleman” as a near
translation in that sense. He said, “ A Jun Zi will not command respect if
he is not firmly composed; nor will his learning consolidate. He will devote
himself to his principles and be sincere. He will suffer no friend below himself.
He will not be afraid to rectify his mistakes.”
(Note: Confucius’ quotes in English are taken from: “The Four Books” translated
by James Legg who became a first Oxford Sinologist, published in the early 1900’s)
(The founding of a new Empire and the lost of an old civilization)
The last Empire of China before it turned into a Republic was the Qing Dynasty
清朝 which lasted 268 years (from 1644 to 1911). It was one of the most powerful
and the largest of all the former empires. However, its rulers, the Manchurians
滿州人 (Manzhou ren) having founded the largest empire in China, ironically lost
their civilization in the process and by the end of their rule, their race entirely
merged with the Han people漢人 (Hanren) and became extinct.
In tracing the underlying reasons for the extinction of the Manchurians 滿州人, it
is necessary to know their brief history as a race prior to their becoming a ruling
power over China. That would take us to 1616 AD, the time of the founding of the
Late Jin Kingdom 後金汗國 by Nu Er Ha Chi努爾哈赤who was once an Acting Governor
of Jian Zhou 建州, appointed by the Ming Dynasty 明朝 but later declared
independence. The Manchurians were in fact the remnant people of a former
kingdom called the Jin Empire 金帝國. They once occupied half of China and
kidnapped two emperors of the Song Dynasty 宋朝. They were eventually defeated
by the joint efforts of the Chinese Song Dynasty 宋朝 and the Mongols蒙古人
(Mengu ren) in 1234 AD. The entire race of the Jin people金人were wiped out
inside China. But they miraculously survived in their remote homeland, and 400
years later, eventually came back to haunt the Mongols and the Chinese in
In the early 1600’s, the Late Jin Kingdom後金汗國 was a quasi-nomadic race
occupying a small part of Manchuria mainly engaged in hunting, raising cattle
rather than farming (the weather forbidding) and the population was less than
3 million. How this small race was able, within the short span of 30 years, to
develop into a powerful tribe and to conquer the whole of China with a population
of over 80 million is a strange occurrence in history.
It seemed that in their strength lied their weakness. They were superb horsemen
and fighters and could wage warfare with lightning speed and endure the
unendurable in hostile environments. But they were backward in civilization and
their written language was only introduced at the time of the founding of this Late
Jin Kingdom and not widely used. (This may be one of the reasons why there was
only very little evidence that these people were actual descendents of Jinen 金人
four centuries ago.) The spoken language was colloquial and unsophisticated.
Because they bordered on China, the Chinese language was commonly used by
When they became rulers of China, it was apparent to them that could never rule
China with their own language. The ruling of such a large country with its complexity
in administration and communication clearly needed a more sophisticated language
than their own. The ruling elites, princes and officials therefore all learned Chinese.
All the Emperors of the Qing Dynasty when they were young, had Chinese tutors
and some of them were even refined scholars in Chinese poetry, paintings and
calligraphy. The Manchu language had nothing of these to offer. Even at the
beginning of the Empire which they set up, their own civilization was lost to the
supremacy of the culture of the Han people漢人.
The Manchurians had a unique system regarding the control and registration of their
population. It was not attached to any place of birth or ancestry but to certain “Flags”
旗. It was first devised as a military system where all men were warriors. The whole
population of the Manchurians was divided under eight “Flags”. They were: Yellow,
White, Red, Blue and the same four colours with borders, making a total of 8 “Flags”.
(The Yellow, White and Blue flags were bordered with red and the Red bordered
with white.) This was why the Manchurians were also known as “Flag people” 旗人
(Qiren). They could not live outside the influence of their “flag” or marry any person
not of the same “flag”. Deserting a “flag” and joining another is unknown since it was
considered “treason” punishable by death. The system seemed to work in their
old hunting environment where people must stick to a group in order to survive.
However, once inside China, living standards much improved and the “flag system”
had no meaning whatever on such a large territory where food, wealth and luxuries
were abundant for the ruling class. Its application was only maintained in the military
organizations and fell into disuse on the civil side as a race. After 270 years living
in China, the Manchurians had lost their original identity and the attachment to a
“flag” had no meaning at all.
When the last Emperor of the Qing Dynasty, Po-yi 溥儀, was put on the throne in
1908, he was only an infant 3 years old. His reign lasted only three years when
the old Empire was toppled over in 1911 by a new wave of military revolution led
by the Han people and the figurehead was Dr. Sun Yat-sin 孫逸仙 (Sun yi Xian also
known as Sun Zhong Shan). With the demise of the Qing Dynasty, the Manchurians
did not only lose an empire but they entirely lost their civilization and identity as a
race and it was history’s irony that they were lost within the multitude of the Han
people, a race that they defeated 270 years ago.
清 朝 建 Qing Chao jian
滿州人 Manzhou ren
蒙古人 Mengu ren
宋朝 Song Chao
後金汗國 Hou Jin Han Guo
努爾哈赤 Nu Er Ha Chi
孫逸仙 Sun yi Xian / Sun Zhong Shan
The Opium War 鴉片戰爭
China’s ports were close to foreigners prior to 1680’s. One reason being that
China thought, quite rightly so, that they had everything they needed. Trade
was unnecessary. Foreigners on the other hand, needed Chinese tea, porcelain
and silk; and trade was one of the western world’s aims for expansion.
The Qing 清 government however, had something more important in mind
before trade, that is, national security (國防). Taiwan (台灣), then known as
Formosa, meaning “green island”) was possessed by Holland for almost four
decades before being ousted by Zheng Cheng-gong鄭成功in 1661. It was only
after 1683 when China recovered Taiwan from the Zheng family that they thought
China’s coast was safe. (This was not imaginary since Japanese pirates (倭寇)
had plagued coastal provinces for generations during the Ming’s era 明代.) It was
in 1685 that Canton廣州 (Guangzhou) was open to foreign trade. Portugal (in
possession of Macau 澳門for over a century already), Britain, France, Spain and
Holland were the first to arrive.
These foreign traders (夷商) could not travel inland but must remain within the
confines of their appointed residence. There were strict regulations regarding
their conduct. For example, they could not shop in the market and deal with
Chinese traders they chose but must trade through a Chinese comprador (洋行).
They had no right of attendance before Chinese officials. All pleadings to
governmental offices must be submitted through a洋行. They could only trade
between the 5th and the 10th months, outside which they had to return home.
Women folks were not allowed in the city. They were not allowed to buy Chinese
books or learn Chinese.
Britain was ruling India since 1750’s via a corporation called “East Indian
Company”, (EIC東印度公司) (the predecessor of the Hongkong’s Jardines Group
怡和洋行) a quasi-government enterprising entity. They grew poppy in India and
found selling opium to China a hugely profitable trade. Opium was outlawed in
Britain at the time and using the EIC to trade opium would avoid the
embarrassment of the British Government involving in illegal drugs trading
Opium was not new, but known to China since the 8th century. It was introduced
from Arabia via the Silk Road and used for medication purposes. However, after
it was extensively traded by the Portuguese and the British, the Qing 清 government
found opium smoking getting out of control. It was obviously harmful to national
health and also a drain of national wealth. (The estimated annual import of opium
in the 1830’s was 2 million kilos, causing an outflow of 10 million teals 両 of gold).
Emperor Dao Guang道光 (綿寧) appointed a High Commissioner Lin Ze Xu林則徐to
stem out the importing and smoking of the drug. In 1839, Chinese officials found
Britain and other nations’ traders stock-piling tons of opium in their designated
warehouses in Canton. Lin ordered the opium be surrendered within 3 days and
an undertaking by all concerned not to offend again. Foreign traders refused the
terms and were under siege by the Chinese authorities. Food supply and water
were cut off. Negotiations continued for some time.
The British foreign office was reluctant to support the EIC with military force since
the order of seizure of opium was perfectly legal, by Chinese or international law.
Finally after 10 days, 1.4 million kilos of opium was handed over to the Chinese
government and destroyed but no undertaking was signed by the British and they
withdrew to Macau. At about the same time, a case of murder of a Chinese in
Kowloon 九龍was committed by a sailor on board the “Arrow” (flying British flag)
anchored in the harbour of Hongkong香港 and the captain refused to hand over
the culprit to the Chinese authorities. Lin Ze-Xu was infuriated and ordered the
British out of Macau澳門.
Being successful in dealing with the opium importers, Emperor Dao Guang was
carried away. He ordered a complete ban on the British to trade or enter any port
at all. When this news arrived London, the British government changed their stance
and the British Parliament decided to wage war against China to sustain their right
of trading, which is a better cause than protecting the opium business of the East
Indian Company (the motion was only passed with a very thin majority of votes—
showing that there was not a complete lack of moralists in the House of Commons).
In 1840, an expedition of 16 British warships arrived and were provisioned in
Macau. Canton was blockaded. British envoy Captain Elliot took the main force
of the fleet up the China coast and took Dinghai 定海in Zhoushan Archipelago
舟山 群島 (near Shanghai) as a supply link. Then he sailed north to Tiensin天津
(Tianjin) and reached port Dagu 大沽. When Peking 北京(Beijing) was threatened,
the Emperor was shocked and agreed to negotiate. After protracted negotiations,
war started again in 1842 with the British (less than 3000 men) defeating the Qing
army in Ningbo寧波and Shanghai 上海, sailing up the Yangtze 長江(Changjiang) to
put Nanking 南京(Nanjing) under naval fire power.
Nanking could not but surrendered and agreed to terms, later known as the
Treaty of Nanking of 1841南 京 條 約.. By that, China were to compensate Britain
for the opium destroyed and the cost of the expedition in the amount of 21million
teals 両 of silver. The sovereignty of Hongkong was ceded to the British forever.
Five ports were opened for free trade (Canton 廣州, Fuzhou 福州, Ningbo 寧波,
Xiamen 廈門 and Shanghai 上海). Consulates were to be established and in future
diplomatic exchanges, Britain should be an equal nation and not addressed as
All these seemed justified for a country losing the war. However, the real
inequalities were to follow, in the form of protocols and appendice. Any disputes
arising between British and Chinese citizens were to be tried by British officials.
British “settlement” area in Shanghai (and later other cities) with its own police
and soldiers, was out of China’s jurisdiction entirely. This was the beginning of
the world notorious “Extra-territoriality”治外法權. British warships had the right to
stay within the waters of the five ports “to protect her subjects”. Any other benefits
to be granted to other nations were to apply to Britain, known as the notion of
“equal benefits”. The real problem which started the war, opium, was not
mentioned anywhere and it continued to pour into China.
15 years later, under the pretext of “rectifying” the Nanking Treaty, the British
requested for fresh negotiations, to which China refused. The excuse was that
China signed another treaty with the French in 1844, which provided for
after 12 years; and under the term of “equal benefits”, the British should be able
to enjoy the same. Together with the French, the British repeated the first war in
order to force China to agree to further terms. Their army reached Peking and
pilfered the royal garden palace at Yuan Ming Yuan圓明園 before burning it down
to cover their piracy deeds. This was known as the second “opium war” though
in reality it had nothing to do with opium at all but was a pure act of aggression.
Again the Qing army was no match for the joint forces and it ended with China
signing the Treaty of Peking in 1860.
The Chinese, under the foreign rule of the Qing清Manchurians(满州人) plunged
from one abyss to another throughout the latter half of the 19th century cumulating
in the fall of Peking again to the foreign powers in 1900 as a result of the Boxer’s
uprising. The turn of the century saw Japan continued their aggression. Having
taken Taiwan in 1895, Japan continued to put Manchuria under its puppet rule
in 1932, openly attacked Peking in 1937 and then Shanghai and the rest of the
coastal regions. All these did not produce any effective response by the League
of Nations (predecessor of the United Nations) and China was forgotten by the
rest of the world until Japan joined the Hitler-Mussolini Axis and started invading
the rest of the Asian countries, including the American naval base at Hawaii in
The lesson is clear that when a country is powerful , it shall do whatever
suits its interests and it shall always find a reason for it whether it was
the British 150 years ago or the Americans nowadays. We see the same
situation in Iraq today and possibly Iran tomorrow.
"We Americans have no commission from God to police the world."
American President: William McKinley (1897-901)
Cai Lun 蔡 倫 and the History of Paper
According to 後 漢 書 (The History of Late Han) Cai Lun was of Kuai Yang 貴 陽
origin (now Hunan湖南). He was a eunuch at a young age and was promoted
to a Court secretarial official in the reign of He Di 和帝 (89AD) in Eastern Han 東漢.
He was later put in charge of the manufacture of secretive weaponry which he did
with fine workmanship and precision. In those days books and documents were
either written on bamboo strips or written on silk and linen. The latter were generally
called “paper”. Bamboos were too clumsy and heavy to carry and silk too expensive.
Cai Lun used tree barks, hemp, waste clothe and old fish nets to manufacture paper
and presented the final product to the Emperor in 105AD. Thereafter, it was widely
used and people called it “Marquis Cai’s paper” 蔡侯紙. Nowadays we call the most
high quality writing paper “xuan” 宣 paper, which was a historical name given to paper
In 121 AD, Cai Lun was involved in a factional struggle of the imperial court of
Eastern Han 東漢 and he was ordered to appear before an examining justice. Cai
would not suffer himself to such indignity. He bathed himself, changed into the most
elegant ceremonial dress and took poison to kill himself. Afterwards, workmen in the
industry of paper manufacture worshipped him as the father paper-making and also
as the “paper god”紙神. Apart from China, even in Japan, he was acknowledged as
the ultimate Master in paper-making 祖師 by people in the paper industry.
However, recent archeological findings seem to show that from sites in Xinjiang
新彊and Gansu甘肅, remnants of ancient paper were uncovered, dating as early
as Western Han 西 漢 (202BC-9AD), about 200 years earlier than Cai Lun’s time.
But it is indisputable fact that Cai revolutionized the process of paper making and
produced a much better quality paper than anything we knew before him. The use
of wood chips and bark was a new invention and a new material in the making of
paper pulp. It was environment-friendly as well as economical, producing
By the time of Jin晉代, paper had entirely taken the place of silk and linen as a
medium of writing. By the end of Eastern Jin, it was usual practice that nothing
other than paper should be presented in Court.
The use of paper had greatly promoted the widespread use of books, thus improving
the storage of information and the spreading of civilization. Before the invention of
printing, copying was the only means of reproducing books and documents and this
resulted in a new area of art in Chinese calligraphy.
For over 6 centuries after Cai’s invention, paper was only produced in China despite
its continuous export to other Asian and Middle-East countries. The process of paper-
making was kept an industrial secret, though the intricate nature of the different
procedures was a real barrier to a foreign manufacturer. It was only until 750 AD
when the Tang dynasty唐朝 and the Arabian countries had a series of wars in the
near East resulting in the capture of some Chinese paper workers by the Arabians
that the secret was revealed to the outside world. Baghdad adopted the secretive
processes and a paper industry sprang up. From there the technique of paper-making
was further transferred to the rest of Europe but it was almost one millennium after
Cai Lun’s invention in China.
|talk one - The Origin of Tao-te-Ching
talk one A - The Universe
talk two - The Chinese written language
talk three - Confucius
talk four - The Manchurians, founder of the new empire
talk five - The Opium War
talk six - The history of paper
Home cooking recipes
A remarkable woman
A lustful woman
Panda in motion
Fairylands in China
A HK girl's blog
Most romantic poet
Chinese culinary art
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