Hi, I'm John Green, this is Crash Course World History, and today we're going to talk about China, which
these days is discussed almost constantly on television and in newspapers - wait, are they still a thing?
So, we used to print information on sliced trees and then you would pay someone
to take these sliced trees and throw them onto your front lawn, and that's how
we received information. No one thought this was weird, by the way.
Right, but anyway, you hear a lot about how China is going the U.S. and bury
us under a pile of inexpensive electronics, but I don't want to address those fears
today. Instead, I want to talk about how the way you tell a story shapes the story.
China was really the first modern state – by which I mean it had a government
and a corps of bureaucrats who could execute the wishes of that government. And it lasted,
in pretty much the same form, from 150 BCE until 1911 CE, which is technically known as a long-ass time.
The Chinese were also among the first people to write history. In fact, one of the
Classics is called the , or Classic of History. This is great for us, because
we can now see the things that the Chinese recorded as they were happening, but it is
also problematic because of the way the story is told.
So even Me From The Past with his five minutes of World History knows that Chinese History
is divided into periods called .
Mr. Green, I didn't even say anything. That doesn't seem very fair --
Shh! What makes a a is that it's ruled by a king, or as the Chinese
know him, an emperor, who comes from a continuous ruling family. As long as that family produces
emperors -- and they are always --
No they aren't. First off, there were several who tremendous power
throughout Chinese history, and there was one very important full-fledged ,
, who WU-led China for more than 20 years and founded her own !
- and those emperors keep ruling, the gets to be a .
So the dynasty can end for two reasons: either they run out of (which never happened
thanks to the hard work of many, many ), or the emperor's after a rebellion
or a war. This is more or less what happened to all the , which makes it easy
for me to go over to camera two and describe them in a single run-on sentence: Hi there – camera two.
Leaving aside the , which was sadly fictional, the first Chinese dynasty was the
, who were by the , which political chaos called
the States period, in which states warred over periods - oh, no, wait, it was
a period in which states warred - which ended when the emperor was able to extend his
power over most of the states, but the were replaced by the ,
which was the dynasty that really set the pattern for most of China's history and
lasted for almost 400 years after which China fell again into political chaos – which
only means there was no dynasty that ruled over all of China – and out of this chaos
rose the , who were followed quickly by the , who in turn were replaced, after
a short period of no dynasty, by the Song, who saw a huge growth in China's commerce
that was still not enough to prevent them from being conquered by the , who were
both and unusual... because they were - [mongoltage] - which sparked
rebellions resulting in the rise of the , which was the dynasty that built the Great
Wall and made amazing vases, but didn't save them from falling to the , who
founded a dynasty that was called the , which was the last dynasty because in 1911
there was a rebellion like the ones in, say, America, France or Russia, and the whole
system which at this point had lasted for a long-ass time, came to an end.
And... breathe. So that's what happened, but what's interesting, as far as capital-H History
is concerned, is why it happened, and especially why the people who were writing history at
the time said it happened. Which leads us to .
So the concept of dates from the , and current historians
think that they created it to get rid of the . Before the , China didn't even
have a concept of “Heaven” or T'ian, but they did have a “high god” called Shangdi.
But the believed in T'ian, and they were eager to portray the idea of heaven as
eternal, so they the concept of back to a time even before
the , explaining that the were able to conquer the only because the
kings had lost . This, of course, would have been impossible, partly
because the kings had no concept of “heaven”, and partly because, as previously noted, they
didn't exist, but let's just leave that aside.
The is pretty specific about what caused the kings to lose the Mandate,
by the way, explaining: “The attack on Xia may be traced to the in .”
Sadly, the is short on details of these , but are the kind of
behavior that is not expected of a ruler, and therefore Heaven saw fit to come in, remove
the Mandate and allow the to take power.
But then the Shang lost the Mandate. Why? Well, the last Shang emperor was reported
to have and eaten his opponents, which, you know, bit of as far as
is concerned. Of course, that might not actually have happened, but
it would explain why Heaven would allow the to come to power.
So basically the fact that one dynasty falls and is replaced by another in a cycle that
lasts for 3000 years is explained, in the eyes of early Chinese historians, by divine
intervention based on whether the ruler behaves in a proper, upright manner. It's after-the
fact analysis that has the virtue of being completely impossible to , as well
as offering a tidy explanation for some very messy political history. And even ,
it reinforces a vision of moral behavior that is a of , which I
will get to .
But first, let's see an example of the Mandate of Heaven in action. The on lasted
only 38 years, but it's one of the most important in Chinese history, so important
in fact that it gave the place its name, “Chin - uh.” (laughing) Can I just tell you guys,
that we literally just spent 20 minutes on that shot? We shot it like 40 times. ,
you are in love with .
The accomplishment of the was to re-unify China under a single emperor for the first
time in 500 years, ending the states period. As you can imagine, the making of
that particular required the cracking of quite a few eggs, and the great emperor
Qin and his descendants developed a reputation for that was justified.
But it was also exaggerated for effect so that the successor dynasty, the , would
look more legitimate in . So when recounting the fall of the Qin, historians
focused on how a bunch of turned the Qin emperors into , not
, although that would have been awesome. And these crazy like
tricked emperors into committing suicide when they started thinking for themselves, .
So the Mandate of Heaven turned away from these emperors, which set
up a nice contrast with the early emperors, such as , who came to power in 180 BCE
and ruled , avoiding in personal behavior and ruling largely according
Under , there were no more harsh punishments for criticizing the government, executions
declined, and, for the scholars who were writing the history, the
government stopped burning books. Thus, according to the ancient Chinese version of history,
Emperor , by behaving as a wise , maintains the Mandate of Heaven. So who is
this I won't shut up about? Let's go to the Thought Bubble.
was a minor official who lived during the States period and developed a
philosophical and political system he hoped would lead to a more stable state and society.
He spent a great deal of his time trying to convince one of the powerful kings to embrace
his system, but while none ever did, got the last laugh because his recipe for
creating a functioning society was ultimately adopted and became the basis for Chinese government,
education, and, well, most things.
So was conservative. He argued that the key to bringing about a strong and peaceful
state was to look to the past and the model of the emperors. By following their example
of upright, moral behavior, the Chinese emperor could bring order to China. Confucius' idea
of morally upright behavior to a person's knowing his or her place in a
series of and acting accordingly.
Everyone lives his life (or her life, but like most ancient philosophical traditions,
women were ) in relationship to other people, and is either a superior or
an inferior. There are five key relationships - but the most important is the one between
father and son, and one of the keys to understanding is - a son treating
his father with respect.
The father is supposed to earn this respect by caring for the son and educating him, but
this doesn't mean that a son has the right to a father. Ideally,
though, both the father and the son will act accordingly: the son will respect the father,
and the father will act .
Ultimately, the goal of both father and son is to be a “superior man” (Junzi in Chinese).
If all men be Junzi, the society as a whole will run smoothly. This idea applies
especially to the emperor, who is like the father to the whole country. Oh, it's time
for the Open Letter? Alright.
God, that's good. But first, let's see what's in the today.
Oh, an ? , this doesn't factor into Chinese history until much later. An
Open Letter to the .
Dear , Why you gotta be so fictional?
You contain all of the most awesome emperors, including my favorite emperor of all time,
the Engineer. There are so many The Greats and The among royalty and so few
The Engineers. We need more kings like The Engineer: Peter The ;
The Script Supervisor; The Video Editing and Producer Guy. Those should be our kings!
I freakin' love you, The Engineer. And the fact that you're not real – it breaks
my heart, in a way that could only be fixed by The Engineer. The actually
reminds me of the Mandate of Heaven.
Best wishes, John Green
But back to the Junzi: So how do you know how to behave? Well, first you have to look
to , particularly the emperors. The study of history, as well
as poetry and paintings in order to understand and appreciate beauty, is for
a Junzi. The other important aspects of Junzi-ness are contained in the ideas of
and li. and Li are both incredibly complex concepts that are difficult to translate,
but we're going to do our best.
is usually translated as “”. It means understanding and practicing proper
behavior in every possible situation, which of course depends on who you're interacting
with, hence the importance of the five relationships. Li is usually translated as “ritual” and
refers to rituals associated with Chinese religion, most of which involve the
Which brings us back, in a very , to the fundamental problem of how early
Chinese historians wrote their history. Traditional Chinese historians were all trained in the
Confucian classics, which emphasized the idea that good emperors behaved like good .
Would-be historians had to know these classics by heart and they'd their lessons,
chief among which was the idea that in order to maintain the Mandate of Heaven, you had
to behave properly and not engage in or eat your enemies or eat your enemies while
engaging in .
In this history the political fortunes of a dynasty ultimately rest on one man and his
actions - whether he behaves properly. The Mandate of Heaven is remarkably flexible as
an explanation of historical . It explains why, as fell, there were
often terrible storms and floods and ... If the emperor had been behaving
properly, none of that stuff would have happened.
Now, a more modern historian might point out that the negative effects of terrible storms
and floods, which includes , sometimes lead to changes in leadership. But
that would take the moral aspect out of history and it would also diminish the importance
of Confucian scholars.
Because the scholars can tell you that one of the best ways to learn how to be a good
emperor, and thereby maintain the Mandate of Heaven, is to read the Confucian Classics,
which were written by scholars.
In short, the complicated of Chinese history is mirrored by the complicated
of the relationship between those who write it and those who make it. Which is something
to think about no matter what history you're learning, even if it's from Crash Course.
Next week we'll talk about Alexander — really, , for an entire episode?
That seems excessive to me. They're just like less sour, grapey-er -
Alexander the GREAT. That makes more sense. Until then, thanks for watching.
Crash Course is produced and directed by . Our script supervisor is Johnson.
Our graphics team is Thought Bubble, and the show is written by my high school history
teacher and myself.
Last week's phrase of the week was "Right Here In River City". If you wanna guess at
this week's phrase of the week or suggest future ones, you may do so in comments where
you can also ask questions about today's video that'll be answered by our team of historians.
Thanks for watching. As we say in , don't forget to !