CHAPTER III. ASIATIC CIVILISATION

While Japan was still barbarous, China was highly civilised. Of the beginnings and growth of its civilisation we have no records and we are unable to reconstruct the process. In the days of Confucius, the sixth century B.C., the people lived much as their descendants live today, and Confucius professed to be a transmitter, and not an originator. We are probably within the bounds of sober historical statement if we assert that in the twelfth century B.C. the constitution of Chinese society was already formed in its essential features as it now endures. In any case, no other existing society can dispute with it in claims of an unbroken historical continuity and of high antiquity. Already, in those remote ages, China to itself was the world, the centre of enlightenment, and surrounded only by a fringe of barbarians. Self-centred, and cut off by impassable barriers of mountains, deserts, and seas from other civilisations, it lived its own life until its institutions crystallised and its people identified them with the laws of nature itself. The thoroughgoing conservatism which seems a part of the Chinese people was thus acquired, for in the earlier periods of its history it showed itself responsive to influences from abroad, as individuals still yield readily and completely to a foreign environment. Yet, as a whole, never has any other people been so true to the spirit and the manners of the remote past, and nowhere else has so great a multitude been so homogeneous. China has been conquered repeatedly by foreign invaders, but the native tradition has always imposed itself upon the conquerors.

The chief exception would seem to be in the sphere of religion. Confucianism aimed chiefly at polity, and its ideal was the high-minded and philosophical statesman. It never in its pure form satisfied the religious longings of the people. Hence Buddhism, brought from India, was welcomed by the masses, and in the year A.D. 45 it received the Imperial sanction. It managed to adopt the Confucian ethics as its own, forming a composite which clear-sighted criticism later on was to destroy, and it made a deep impression for a thousand years upon the literature, philosophy, art, and social life of the Chinese. It was not the relatively simple Buddhism of Gautama, but the elaborate, metaphysical, theological, mythological, sectarian Buddhism of the Northern School, the result of centuries of discussion and of the mingling of elements from most diverse sources, Very slowly did the new religion penetrate the masses, but after centuries they were won when a clever priest taught them how to combine the new faith with the old.

Letters were introduced, that is ideographs, and the Chinese language. The first book, our Records of Ancient Matters, was written in A.D. 712 in a form of Japanese which is now archaic. Another version of the same "matters" was brought out a few years later, dressed up in Chinese style, with Chinese philosophy interwoven with the stories of the gods and rhetorical Chinese speeches put into their mouths. Chinese became the language of scholarship, so that education meant its mastery. The native language, however, never completely yielded, but imposed its terminations, its post-positions, its order, and its syntax upon literature, forming a curious composite result. Only a few very scholarly men mastered the alien language so as to write pure Chinese, and others employed a mixture which never produced a literature truly great, but remained as a drag. The pure Japanese was left to women, the lower classes, and to certain schools of antiquarians, and it had no Dante or Luther to raise it to its rightful place of dignity and useful. ness. The pronunciation of Chinese was as barbarous as the literary styles in composition, and almost as varied, successive generations of teachers leaving successive fashions of pronunciation, until three are recognised and none represents Very slowly did the new religion penetrate the masses, but after centuries they were won when a clever priest taught them how to combine the new faith with the old.

Letters were introduced, that is ideographs, and the Chinese language. The first book, our Records of Ancient Matters, was written in A.D. 712 in a form of Japanese which is now archaic. Another version of the same "matters" was brought out a few years later, dressed up in Chinese style, with Chinese philosophy interwoven with the stories of the gods and rhetorical Chinese speeches put into their mouths. Chinese became the language of scholarship, so that education meant its mastery. The native language, however, never completely yielded, but imposed its terminations, its post-positions, its order, and its syntax upon literature, forming a curious composite result. Only a few very scholarly men mastered the alien language so as to write pure Chinese, and others employed a mixture which never produced a literature truly great, but remained as a drag. The pure Japanese was left to women, the lower classes, and to certain schools of antiquarians, and it had no Dante or Luther to raise it to its rightful place of dignity and useful. ness. The pronunciation of Chinese was as barbarous as the literary styles in composition, and almost as varied, successive generations of teachers leaving successive fashions of pronunciation, until three are recognised and none represents any understandable in China: like the French of the Prioress:

"And French she spake full faire and fetishly, After the school of Stratford atte Bow, For French of Paris was to her unknow."
For a millennium the priesthood controlled education, the schools being attached to temples. A university was established with halls for music, medicine, and astrology. The course in medicine, for example, included "materia medica, anatomy, physiology, and the practice of medicine and surgery. Medicinal plants were studied as to their forms and properties, whilst anatomy, it would seem, was taught by plates and diagrams." Only men of specified rank were admitted to this study, though the fitness of women for attendance on the sick was recognised. Charity hospitals and dispensaries were established.

An elaborate and ornate architecture was introduced. Temples built of wood near Nara in the eighth century remain as monuments of the religious fervour and the artistic ability of that remote age. Of neither can there be doubt. The artistic nature of the Japanese people responded at once to the opportunity offered it by the teaching of Chinese art, and their religious feelings embraced the foreign creed with enthusiastic zeal, indeed, with misguided zeal, since the secular arm was called in to punish doubters, and the people were compelled to accept Buddhism by Imperial decree.

The government was reorganised and an elaborate official hierarchy on the Chinese model was set up. The Emperor became the "Son of Heaven," and was removed from familiar contact with the people, the formalities and ceremonies of Chinese life becoming naturalised. Laws were changed and in place of the rude systems of ancient Japan the developed Chinese jurisprudence with courts and judges was adopted, the great transformation being effected from barbaric rule to formal law.

It is impossible to follow the story in detail, and so much is here introduced merely to emphasise the fact that the Japanese of a thousand years ago were essentially like the Japanese of to-day, with the same receptivity, the same intelligence, the same appreciation of the higher good, and the same independence in adapting the importations to their needs. The result, it is true, was not wholly good. As in the case of the language, the natural development was checked and a highly artificial product resulted, for the Chinese civilisation was too complete, too well organised, too imposing, too conscious of its own superiority and finality. It could see nothing beyond itself, and its mere imitation seemed the attainment of perfection.

Life became luxurious, refined, complex, without high ideals or purposes. A court lady of the eleventh century has left us a novel which pictures the life of the time when this Asiatic civilisation was at its climax, a book as pure in style as it is impure in morals. It is indescribably tedious, its characters effeminate, proud, luxurious, superstitious, fond of intrigues in politics and love, but constant in neither, dilettante in art and poetry, idlers, who prepared their country, which they pretended to rule, for the storms which soon overtook it.

For by this time the Empire was ready for revolution. The emperors no longer ruled, but princely families struggled for supremacy, with the spoils of office as the stakes, and pleasures of the grosser sort as ultimate end. Superstition took the place of religion, and literature was without virility. Emperors were without power or ambition, often mere children adorned with meaningless honours, surrounded with burdensome ceremonial, and systematically debauched. Had such a civilisation continued, Japan would have been as uninteresting and as ineffective in a few centuries as other Asiatic lands. It was not in an effeminate civilisation but in deadly strife that the Japanese obtained the training which fits them to take a great place in the world. In the twelfth century the system which had formed around the palace of the Emperor broke up and the appeal was made to arms.