marycatelli (marycatelli) wrote in bookish,

The Early Chinese Empires

The Early Chinese Empires:  Qin and Han by Mark Edward Lewis

The history, the government, the religion, the families, imperial cities and rural farms, law and literature. . . this book covers a lot of ground.

If you put the First Emperor in a book as the Evil Overlord, people would denounce you for having so unrealistic and cliched a villain.  A man who actively pursues war to keep people in poverty so they can't get interested in food, or beautiful women, or reputation, or rites, or poetry, or filial piety, or brotherly love.

Attempts to tame northern barbarians foundering on the lack of control in those societies.

Tribute from western countries, to which China, of course, reciprocated with even better gifts, to show off, and so the countries regarded it as just a form of trade -- some even sent merchants instead of officials.

The growing desire to carefully cordon off the land of the dead.  Tombs being provided with not just the ritual vessels of earlier, but with everything needed for daily life.  Careful inscriptions to ward them off and keep them carefully dead.

The change to nuclear family household, propelled by both Qin and Han policies to maximize the land used.  And whatever rites said, the mother commanded the sons, she did not obey them.

Music bureau songs, which are songs commissioned by the government for rites.  Many show many signs of the folk tradition.

The imperial cities with their lanes reserved for the emperor on the streets and their elevated walkways for his walking.  A temple had to be relocated so that a procession honoring an ancestral emperor did not pass under such a walkway, which is unfilial.  And the towers -- to climb a tower is great, while to stay in an enclosed location is to be akin to the dead.  And they are built of wood, which is only fitting, because they are invariably destroyed by the next dynasty.

At first the emperor honored the last four emperors and the founder.  When another emperor got perpetual rites, they started to acquire them all over the place -- hard to justify keeping out once you've admitted one.

The wicked stepmothers of literature, and the righteous stepmother -- as in, once two half-brothers were found near a murdered man.  Both claimed to have done it, to shield each other.  The stepmother said to execute the younger, her son.  The king asked why him; the stepmother said that her husband had conjured her to care for her stepson.  Also, her son was the junior.  At which point the king pardoned them in honor of her devotion to duty.

The agricultural improvements -- iron plows, better ox harnesses, brick-lined wells -- that gave the rich farmers such an edge over poor ones.  Plus, the capitation tax was collected in money, which meant they needed to sell more of their crop for it in good years, and in bad years, didn't have any crops to sell, so they went into debt.  (It took them years to exempt children under six -- not until people were killing children to avoid the tax.)  Also, mercantile wealth was taxed at double rate and officials had no way to convert salaries into permanent wealth except land.  The Han officials deplored the practice of buying up land without ever noticing they were causing it.

Child prodigies -- like Tang, who caught, convicted, and executed a rat for stealing a piece of meat -- all in perfect form.

A man received money from the Emperor.  He held banquets with it.  When told he should think of his heirs, he says they have his original estate, which will support them.  Wealth will only dampen their ambition, augment their faults, and inspire envy.  Since he can not morally improve his descendants, he will just enjoy the money with his friends and relations.

Ranks, which were handed out for service, or to everyone for momentous occasions like establishing an imperial heir. (So age would mean rank.)  You could trade them in for some punishments.

Some interesting cults.  Like the Yellow Turbans, which were out to establish a new dynasty.  Or the Five Pecks of Grain, which built a Daoist theocracy.  Or the Great Mother movement. . . religion was a matter of proper sacrifices, not systemic theology or even mythology.
Tags: subject: history, xxx author last name: i-q

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