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Chinese Severity


earliest records of the Chinese indicate that the family was placed on a plane that, for severity toward children, challenges even the Roman patria potestas. To the Emperor Yao or Yau, who is supposed to have reigned about 2300 years before Christ, is ascribed the first step in establishing the Chinese attitude toward parents and the respectful obedience exacted from children. Particular emphasis was laid on the son's obedience. It was apparently taken for granted that a daughter would not be rebellious.

Having occupied the throne a long time, Yao, as it is said, called his ministers about him and, telling them that he had now reigned for more than seventy years, expressed his willingness to abdicate in favour of any one who felt capable of taking the Emperor's place. When no one volunteered -they were wise Chinese-he asked them to suggest someone who was deserving of charity.

"Yu Chun," answered the ministers, "though an aged man, is without a wife and comes from an obscure family. Though his father was blind and of neither talent nor mind, and his mother a wicked woman by whom he was mistreated, and though his brother Siang is full of pride, he has observed the rules of filial obedience and has lived in peace and has gradually improved the condition of his family."

"Then," replied the Emperor, "I shall give him my two daughters in marriage and he shall succeed me on the throne to the exclusion of my

son, Ly, who has shown himself to be unworthy by his lack of respect for his parents."

And it was this Yu Chun, it is said, who further established the Chinese principles of morality, by which the family and not the individual shaped the progress of the nation.

How well established those principles became may be seen from the Li Ki, which was composed about a thousand years later. This is a code or book of ceremonials on the civil life, composed or put together by or under the patronage of Tscheou Kong, uncle of the Emperor Tchin Ouang, in 1145 B.C.

"A son," says the Li Ki, "possesses nothing while his parents are living. He cannot even expose his life for a friend."

"A son has received his life from his father and his mother," says Confucius in the Hiao King, composed 480 B.C., "and this gives them rights over him that are above all others."

In the legend of How Tseih, the founder of the House of Chow, whose mother was Keang Yuen and whose father was "a toe print made by God," the adventures of the child are thus described:

He was placed in a narrow lane,

But the sheep and oxen protected him with loving care. He was placed in a wide forest,

Where he was met with by the wood-cutters.

He was placed on the cold ice,

I Li-Ki, chapter i.

Legend of How Tseih


And a bird screened and supported him with its wings.

When the bird went away
How Tseih began to wail.
His cry was long and loud

So that his voice filled the whole way.

No indication is given in the ode as to who was responsible for exposing the infant to these dangers, but just as in other mythologies in which the heroes or near-gods survive the dangers of infancy, there is no doubt that this Chinese hero was pictured as having overlived dangers that were the common lot of the average child. The commentators take different views of the person responsible for the dangers to which How Tseih was subjected, Maou believing that it was the father, the Emperor K'uh; Ch'ing on the contrary holding that it was Keang Yuen, the mother, who did it herself but not for the purpose of getting rid of the child so much as to show what a "marvellous gift he was from Heaven."

It is not that there are not occasional tender strains in the ode. Number seven in the Odes of Ts'e, the poet, sings:

How young and tender

Is the child with his two tufts of hair.

When you see him after not so long a time

Lo! He is wearing the cap.2

She-King, part iii., book ii., ode 1., verse 3, translated by James Legge.

She-King, part i., book viii., ode 7, verse 3.

Writing later the Emperor Tai Tsong, the author of a book called the Mirror of Gold, repeated these ideas on ancestor worship in the following ordinance (627 to 650 A.D.):

"The foundation of all the virtues is filial piety. It is the first thing to learn and I in my youth have received the right lessons. I have done my best to place at ease all my subjects to the end that the parents might be in a state to bring their children up properly and that infants in their turn might acquit themselves of their duties toward their parents.

"When the virtue of filial piety flourishes, then all other virtues will follow. In order that the Empire may know that such is my desire and that it is nearest to my heart, I now order that there be distributed in my name and my account to all those who are known for their filial piety, five large measures of rice. To those who have passed their eightieth year, two measures; to those of ninety years, three measures; . . . Moreover one shall give, commencing with the first moon, to each woman who gives birth to a son, a measure of rice."

But twice is there mention of human sacrifice in the Chu'un Ts'ew but both references indicate that there was little regard for honour as well as for human life. In the account of the reign of Duke He, who ruled from 658 to 626 B.C., it is said that when the Viscount Tsang went to covenant with the people of Choo, the Viscount was

Decrees against Infanticide


sacrificed as an animal might be sacrificed on an altar built on the banks of the Suy in order that the wild tribes of the East might be frightened and "drawn toward him."

In the twelfth year of the reign of Duke Ch'aou, who was Marquis of Loo from B.C. 540 to 509, the army of Ts'oo seized Yew (Yin) and sacrificed him on Mount Kang.2

Not until the reign of Choen Tche (1633 to 1662 A.D.) was there any movement to check the slaughter of infants. Then it was found that infanticide had desolated so many of the provinces that it was necessary for this Emperor, the founder of the Tsing dynasty, to condemn the crime and warn the inhabitants of Hang Hoi, of Kiang Sou, and of Fou-kien that the practice must stop.

The first official document endeavouring to save the children was dated the second day of the third moon, 1659, and was an appeal to the Emperor by an under-official.

"The Supreme King," it begins, "loves to give life and to prevent destruction. All men have received from Heaven a pitying heart. But the corruption of morals comes between the father and the child and causes men to be guilty of cruelty. I, your humble subject, have learned that in the provinces of Kiang Nan, Kiang Si, and Fou Kien there exists the barbarous custom of drowning little girls."

• Chu'un Ts'ew, book v., year xix., par. 4. 1 Ibid., book x., year xii., par. 9.

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