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Origin Of The Chinese

( Originally Published 1910 )

Parent Stock a Migratory People—They Invade China from the Northwest and Colonise the Banks of the Yellow River and of the Han—Their Conflicts with the Aborigines Native Tribes Absorbed by Conquerors

THAT the parent stock in which the Chinese nation had its origin was a small migratory people, like the tribes of Israel, and that they entered the land of promise from the northwest is tolerably certain; but to trace their previous wanderings back to Shinar, India, or Persia would be a waste of time, as the necessary data are lacking. Even within their appointed domain the accounts of their early history are too obscure to be accepted as to any extent reliable.

They appear to have begun their career of conquest by colonising the banks of the Yellow River and those of the Han. By slow stages they moved eastward to the central plain and southward to the Yang-tse Kiang. At that early epoch, between 3000 and 2000 B. C., they found the country already occupied by various wild tribes whom they considered as savages. In their early traditions they describe these tribes respectively by four words : those of the south are called Man (a word with the silk radical) ; those on the east, Yi (with the bow radical) ; those on the north, Tih (represented by a dog and fire) ; and those on the west, Yung (" war-like, fierce," the symbol for their ideograph being a spear). Each of these names points to something distinctive. Some of these tribes were, perhaps, spinners of silk; some, hunters; and all of them, formidable enemies.

The earliest book of history opens with conflicts with aborigines. There can be no question that the slow progress made by the invaders in following the course of those streams on which the most ancient capitals of the Chinese were subsequently located was owing to the necessity of fighting their way. Shun, the second sovereign of whose reign there is record (2200 B. C.), is said to have waged war with San Miao, three tribes of miaotze or aborigines, a term still applied to the independent tribes of the southwest. Beaten in the field, or at least suffering a temporary check, he betook himself to the rites of religion, making offerings and praying to Shang-ti, the supreme ruler. " After forty days," it is stated, " the natives submitted."

In the absence of any explanation it may be concluded that during the suspension of hostilities negotiations were proceeding which resulted not in the destruction of the natives, but in their incorporation with their more civilised neighbours. This first recorded amalgamation of the kind was doubtless an instance of a process of growth that continued for many centuries, resulting in the absorption of all the native tribes on the north of the Yang-tse and of most of those on the south. The expanding state was eventually composed of a vast body of natives who submitted to their civilised conquerors, much as the people of Mexico and Peru consented to be ruled by a handful of Spaniards.

As late as the Christian era any authentic account of permanent conquests in China to the south of the "Great River" is still wanting, though warlike expeditions in that direction were not infrequent. The people of the northern provinces called themselves Han-jin, "men of Han" or "sons of Han," while those of the south styled themselves T'ang-jin, "men of T'ang." Does not this indicate that, while the former were moulded into unity by the great dynasty which took its name from the river Han (206 B. C.), the latter did not become Chinese until the brilliant period of the Tangs, nearly a thousand years later? Further confirmation need not be adduced to show that the empire of the Far East contemporary with, and superior in civilisation to, ancient Rome, embraced less than the eighteen provinces of China Proper. Of the nine districts into which it was divided by Ta-yü, 2100 B. C. not one was south of the "Great River."

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