Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Ancient Chinese Government

In ancient China, many of the key elements of Chinese culture had already sprung into being and begun being elaborated on. Back in the 2nd millennium BCE, “[t]he long-term cultural legacy of the Shang was primarily one of attitudes: an obsessive concern with ritual, a strongly bureaucratic outlook (especially evident in an abiding love of hierarchy, order, and classification), a consuming interest in the family and in ancestor worship, an aesthetically satisfying script, and the beginnings of yinyang-type art motifs and metaphysics.” (Smith 28) This was but the beginning, however, and in successive centuries the arrival of the Zhou and, in particular, Han dynasties further cemented and developed this nascent principles into long-standing traditions that had stood the test of time and new dynastic rules. “[T]he Han dynasty's conception of "ritual propriety and social morality" (lijiao; lit., the teachings of ritual) (Smith 32) based on a melding of Legalist principles and Confucianist spirit, clearly maintained continuity with the Shang philosophy of government but also developed along its own course. China has always had a strong notion of class, however such a mindset was tempered by major changes in bureaucratic management by government, such as with the bureaucratic examinations of the Tang period, which marked “the beginning of a trend toward the replacement of aristocratic rule by "meritocratic" rule in Chinese government.” (Smith 33) This marks the shift into a “junxian” (Schrecker 4) philosophy of rule as opposed to a more decentralized “fengjian” system. “Fengjian society has sharp class lines and an elite of hereditary aristocrats, whereas junxian has a relatively open social system and an elite based on wealth, talent, or education.” (Schrecker 4) China was to remain largely junxian well into the Qing dynasty. Along with a growing change in the nature of upward mobility in the class system, “[a]nother Tang contribution to the character of Chinese government in late imperial times was its highly refined law code, which provided the general format of the law codes of subsequent dynasties down to the Qing, as well as many specific statutes. Tang law was overwhelmingly penal in emphasis and designed primarily to preserve the entire Chinese social order against acts of moral or ritual impropriety.” (Smith 34)

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