Wednesday, February 27, 2013
[Opinion] China's Policy of Stability above All Else
1. Chinese Verse of the Day:
蘇軾 (1037 - 1101)
2. For the past many years, the overriding policy consideration of the Chinese Government in Beijing can be summarized by the slogan "Stability above All Else" or "Stability Overrides Everything".
It is not the purpose of this blog post to express an opinion on this policy, but rather to give one reason why "stability" strikes a chord with many Chinese.
The reason why many Chinese prize stability above all else is because political instability may leads to "a change in dynasty" and a change in dynasty historically means death on a massive scale.
Just contemplating "a change in dynasty" will send chills up and down the spine of many Chinese.
3. The following table summarizes China's population statistics over the centuries.
The figures are from the posthumous China's Historical Statistics on Households, Land and Taxes (1980) by Liang fangzhong.
The following are some very rough interpretations of the numbers:
(a) When there was a dynastic change from Western Han to Eastern Han, the wars lead to a decrease in population of (69.60 - 21.01) = 48.59 million.
The population decreased by (69.60 - 21.01) / 69.60 = 69.81%
(b) When Eastern Han disintegrated into the Three Kingdoms, the resulting wars lead to a decrease in population of (56.49 - (0.94 + 4.43 + 2.30)) = 48.82 million.
The population decreased by (56.49 - 48.82) / 56.49 = 86.42%
(c) (I have skipped over Liang's statistics on Southern and Northern Dynasties (420 CE - 589 CE) as China was fragmented and it will take too many explanations for the purpose of this blog post.)
(d) When there was a dynastic change from Sui to Tang, the wars lead to a decrease in population of (46.02 - 37.14) = 8.88 million.
The population decreased by (46.02 - 37.14) / 46.02 = 19.30%
(e) The An Shi Rebellion of Tang Dynasty happened between 755 CE and 763 CE.
The wars of An Shi Rebellion lead to a decrease in population of (52.92 - 16.92) = 36.00 million.
The population decreased by (52.92 - 16.92) / 52.92 = 68.02%
(f) Tang ended at 907 CE and a fragmented period called Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms (907 –960/979 CE) followed.
Song unified China from between 960 CE to 979 CE and is known as Northern Song.
The population of China hovered around 16 millions in this transition period.
(g) Northern Song is called "Northern" because its Capital is at present day Kaifeng in northern China.
After the Song engaged in a period of wars with the Liao and the Jin, its capital was moved to present day Hangzhou in southern China for strategic reasons; thus began Southern Song.
The wars with the Liao and Jin lead to many deaths and a contraction in territory.
The population decrease in this period was (46.73 - 16.84) = 29.89 million.
The population decreased by (46.73 - 16.84) / 46.73 = 64.00%
(h) When the dynasty changed from Southern Song to Yuan, the wars lead to a decrease in population of (76.34 - 59.85) = 16.49 million.
The population decreased by (76.34 - 59.85) / 76.34 = 21.60%
(i) The dynastic changed from Yuan to Ming had negligible impact on the population of China.
(j) When the dynasty changed from Ming to Qing, the wars lead to a decrease in population of (51.66 - 14.03) = 37.63 million.
The population decreased by (51.66 - 14.03) / 51.66 = 72.84%
3a. Added: Later on Wednesday, February 27, 2013.
I believe my use of Liang fangzhong's statistics on China's population is adequate for its purpose: To illustrate how the wars during "a change in dynasty" lead to death on a massive scale.
But I cannot emphasize enough that the above is a "very rough" interpretations of the census numbers.
Just two caveats out of many:
(a) I believe the actual numbers of deaths due to wars over the centuries, in general, were worse than the census data indicated.
The census data Liang quoted were taken after a dynasty was established and the government bureaucracy has recovered enough to conduct censuses.
Thus, Eastern Han was officially established at 25 CE but the first census data was from 57 CE.
There was 32 years between the establishment of the dynasty and the first census for the population to recover from wars.
This means the census data probably underestimated the devastation of wars on the population.
(b) Despite the wars with the Jin and later the Yuan (Mongols), Southern Song (1127 - 1279) was one of the high points of China in terms of cultural attainments, commerce and material welfare in general.
Southern Song did not rule over all of China but had lost many territories to the Liao and Jin.
If we consider the year 1193 CE, the population of Southern Song was 27.85 million but the combined population of Southern Song + Jin was 76.34 million.
Since the population of Jin was in the low millions, Chinese population in that year should be over 70 million - this not counting Chinese under Liao rule.
4. Given the above statistics: Is it any wonder that Chinese fear instability and the mentioning of "a change in dynasty" will send chills up and down the spine of many Chinese?
5. Names, Words and Phrases:
A change in dynasty (Traditional Chinese: 改朝換代; Simplified Chinese: 改朝换代).
An Shi Rebellion (Traditional: 安史之亂; Simplified: 安史之乱).
Eastern Han (Traditional: 東漢; Simplified: 东汉).
Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms (Traditional: 五代十國; Simplified: 五代十国).
Hangzhou (Traditional: 杭州; Simplified: 杭州).
Jin (Traditional: 金; Simplified: 金).
Kaifeng (Traditional: 開封; Simplified: 开封).
Liang fangzhong (Traditional: 梁方仲; Simplified: 梁方仲).
Liao (Traditional: 遼; Simplified 辽).
Ming (Traditional: 明; Simplified: 明).
Qing (Traditional: 清; Simplified: 清).
Northern Song (Traditional: 北宋; Simplified: 北宋).
Southern and Northern Dynasties (Traditional: 南北朝; Simplified: 南北朝).
Southern Song (Traditional: 南宋; Simplified: 南宋).
Stability Above All Else (Traditional: 穩定壓倒一切; Simplified: 稳定压倒一切).
Song (Traditional: 宋; Simplified: 宋).
Sui (Traditional: 隋; Simplified: 隋).
Tang (Traditional: 唐; Simplified: 唐).
Three Kingdoms (Traditional: 三國; Simplified: 三国).
Western Han (Traditional: 西漢; Simplified: 西汉).
Western Jin (Traditional: 西晉; Simplified: 西晋).
Yuan (Traditional: 元; Simplified: 元).
Liang fangzhong 梁方仲. 1980. 《中国历代户口、田地、田赋统计》 [China's Historical Statistics on Households, Land and Taxes]. Shanghai: Shanghai People's Publishing House.
"Dynasties in Chinese history", Wikipedia - The Free Encyclopedia,
"Su Shi", Wikipedia - The Free Encyclopedia,
"蘇軾", Wikipedia - The Free Encyclopedia,