Toward Citizenship
E Bruce Brooks
European-North American Conference "The West and East Asian Values"
University of Toronto, 1 August 1998

Toward Citizenship in Warring States China

E Bruce Brooks


This paper revisits several classic anecdotes defending popular protest as an appropriate part of the political process. Some key points:

1. The two most cited anecdotes, in the Dzwo Jwan and Gwo Yw, are dated, in those texts, to c0850 and 0542, respectively. Accepting that dating, they are too intermittent to document a tradition for the right of political expression in the ancient period. The thinness of the evidence casts doubt on the claim itself.

2. But our researches show that both the DJ and GY texts articulate values from their own time, disguised as stories about earlier times. This was the standard way to introduce a novel idea into the Warring States political debates. The stories are then really talking about the compilation dates of those two texts, which are c0312 and c0306, respectively. Both probably reflect a late 04c political theory agitation.

3. In support of this conclusion, we find that the corresponding strata of the Analects (LY 12-13) express very similar ideas: the government exists to secure the well-being of the people, not the reverse, and the well-being of the people is the chief test of a good government. See for example LY 12:19 and 13:16. These date from c0326 and c0322, respectively, or not long before the completion of the Dzwo Jwan. We have now discovered the theory which the two stories were invented to dramatize, and which the stories meant to provide with an ancient pedigree.

4. LY 12-13 (c0326-c0322) are the philosophical home ground of Mencius, who was at that time still associated with the Confucian School of Lu (his public career, outside the school, began in 0320). In his early interviews with rulers, Mencius urged that government should aim at, and be judged by, the well-being of the people. The classic statement of this Mencian theory is MC 1A1-3-5. The need for the people's military service, in the mass infantry army of the period, is explored in MC 1B12.

5. The posthumous Mencian chapters (MC 2-7), whose dates reach as late as c0250, take this populist position to a shrill extreme, asserting the right of revolution, and denying that rulers who oppress the people are rulers at all. This is a perfectly logical development of the milder, or more politely asserted, position of Mencius himself.

6. LY 12-13 are in dialogue with the Chi statecraft theorists of the Gwandz. In that dialogue the Gwandz people first advocate harsh methods to control the people, but then introduce such social concessions as a higher review of local-court convictions. It is likely that neither of these texts is philosophizing in a vacuum, but that both are making proposals in real time. The role of the people in the state was being transformed, and the state itself was being transformed, at this period, by the insistent needs of the new mass army.

7. All this stirring, across the spectrum of Warring States political opinion, would seem to refute the argument that populism, and the right of political expression by the people, are outside the conceptual range of Chinese tradition. To quote the final paragraphs of the paper:

"Despite obvious differences of detail, I think that it is valid to consider that by the end of the 04c something akin to a national state was emerging in China, in theory and in actuality, and that it was in the process of reaching, with its commoner members, a sort of mutual accommodation for which the concept of "citizenship" may not be inappropriate. I suggest that this accommodation was fundamentally military rather than philosophical in its first impulse, and that, then as now, the military obligation of the people is the essential element in defining their relation to the state. By the end of the 04c, we may no longer validly speak of a politically subject population of rural producers. We are instead entitled to regard the role of that population as being, at least incipiently, one of citizenship."

"I must add that the 03c sources tell a very different story; namely, of a right turn toward the autocratic Empire. The nature and causes of that turn are the subject of ongoing research. But whatever the outcome of that research, it seems to me that the more open, if abortive, developments of the 04c remain among the most intriguing and suggestive of China's "roads not [yet] taken."

Calligraphic Separator

For a review of the "populist" anecdotes in their historical setting, see now the Waseda Lecture, posted elsewhere at this site. For the suppression of these values by the Empire, and the mendacity of some of those defending the Empire on this point, see Asian Values.

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