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  • Hi, I’m John Green, this is Crash Course: World History, and today were going to

  • talk about China, which these days is discussed almost constantly on television and in newspaperswait,

  • are they still a thing?

  • So, we used to print information on thinly sliced trees and then you would pay someone

  • to take these thinly 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.

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  • Right but anyway you hear a lot about how China is going to overtake the U.S. and bury

  • us under a pile of inexpensive electronics, but I don’t to address those 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 centralized government

  • and a corps of bureaucrats who could execute the wishes of that government.

  • And it lasted, in pretty much the same form, until 150 BCE to 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 Confucian

  • Classics is called the Shujing, 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 conveniently divided into periods called Dynasties.

  • Mr. Green, I didn’t even say anything. That doesn’t seem very fair-

  • Sshh! What makes a dynasty a dynasty 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 dudes, and those emperors

  • keep ruling, the dynasty gets to be a dynasty.

  • So the dynasty can end for two reasons: either they run out of dudes (which never happened

  • thanks to the hard work of many, many concubines), or the emperor is overthrown after a rebellion

  • or a war.

  • This is more or less what happened to all the dynasties, 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 Xia dynasty, which was sadly fictional, the first Chinese dynasty were

  • the Shang, who were overthrown by the Zhou, which disintegrated into political chaos called

  • the Warring States period, in which states warred over periodsoh, no, wait, it was

  • a period in which states warred, which ended when the Qin emperor was able to extend his

  • power over most of the heretofore warring states,

  • but the Qin were replaced by the Han, 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 chaoswhich only means there was no dynasty that ruled over all of

  • Chinaand out of this chaos rose the Sui, who were

  • followed quickly by the Tang, 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 Yuan, who were both unpopular and unusual

  • because they were Mongols, which sparked rebellions resulting in the rise of the Ming, which was

  • the dynasty that built the Great Wall and made amazing vases but didn’t save them

  • from falling to the Manchus who founded a dynasty that was called the Qing, which was

  • the last dynasty because in 1911 there was a rebellion like the ones in, say, America,

  • France or Russia, and the whole dynastic system which at this point had lasted for a long-ass

  • time came to an end.

  • The concept of the Mandate of Heaven dates from the Zhou Dynasty, and current historians

  • think that they created it to get rid of the Shang.

  • Before the Zhou, China didn’t even have a concept ofHeavenor T’ian, but

  • they did have a “high godcalled Shangdi.

  • But the Zhou believed in T’ian, and they were eager to portray the idea of heaven as

  • eternal so they ascribed the concept of the Mandate of Heaven back to a time even before

  • the Shang, explaining that the Shang were able to conquer the Xia only because the Xia

  • kings had lost the Mandate of Heaven.

  • (This of course would have been impossible, partly because the Xia kings had no concept

  • ofheaven”, and partly because, as previously noted, they didn’t exist, but let’s just

  • leave that aside.)

  • The Shujing is pretty specific about what caused the Xia kings to lose the Mandate,

  • by the way, explaining:

  • The attack on Xia may be traced to the orgies in Ming Tiao.”

  • Sadly the Shujing is woefully short on details of these orgies, but orgies are the kind of

  • behavior that is not expected of a ruler, and thus Heaven saw fit to remove the Mandate,

  • and therefore heaven saw fit to come in, remove the Mandate, and allow the Shang to take power.

  • But then the Shang lost the Mandate. Why? Well, the last Shang emperor was reported

  • to have roasted and eaten his opponents, which, you know, bit of a deal breaker as far as

  • the Mandate of Heaven is concerned.

  • Of course, that might not actually have happened, but it would explain why Heaven would allow

  • the Zhou 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 an after-the fact analysis that has the virtue of being completely impossible

  • to disprove, as well as offering a tidy explanation for some very messy political history.

  • And even more importantly, it reinforces a vision of moral behavior that is a cornerstone

  • of Confucianism, which I’ll get to momentarily.

  • But first, let’s see an example of the mandate of heaven in action.

  • The Qin dynasty on lasted only 38 years, but it is one of the most important dynasties

  • in Chinese history, so important in fact that it gave the place its name, “Chin- uh.”

  • [chalkboard joke] Hahahaha.

  • Can I just tell you guys that we literally just spent 20 minutes on that shot. We shot

  • it like 40 times. Stan, you are in love with puns.

  • The accomplishment of the Qin was to re-unify China under a single emperor for the first

  • time in 500 years, ending the warring states period.

  • As you can imagine, the making of that particular omelette required the cracking of quite a

  • few eggs, and the great Qin emperor Qin Shihuangdi, and his descendants developed a reputation

  • for brutality that was justified.

  • But it was also exaggerated for effect so that the successor dynasty, the Han, would

  • look more legitimate in the eyes of Heaven.

  • So when recounting the fall of the Qin, historians focused on how a bunch of murderous eunuchs

  • turned the Qin emperors into puppets, not literal puppets, although that would have

  • been awesome.

  • And these crazy eunuchs like tricked emporers into committing suicide when they started

  • thinking for themselves, et cetera.

  • So the Mandate of Heaven turned away from these puppet emperors, which set up a nice

  • contrast for historians of the early Han emperors, such as Wen, who came to power in 180 BCE

  • and ruled benevolently, avoiding extravagance in his personal behavior and ruling largely

  • according to Confucian principles.

  • Under Wen, there were no more harsh punishments for criticizing the government, executions

  • declined, and, most importantly for the Confucian scholars who were writing the history, the

  • government stopped burning books.

  • Thus, according to the ancient Chinese version of history, Emperor Wen, by behaving as a

  • wise Confucian, maintains the Mandate of Heaven.

  • So who is this Confucius I won’t shut up about? Let’s go to the Thought Bubble.

  • Confucius was a minor official who lived during the Warring 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, Confucius 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 Confucius 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 sage emperors. By following their example

  • of morally upright behavior, the Chinese emperor could bring order to China.

  • Confucius idea of morally upright behavior boils down to a person’s knowing his or

  • her place in a series of hierarchical relationships and acting accordingly.

  • Everyone lives his life (or her life, but like most ancient philosophical traditions,

  • women were marginalized) in relationship to other people, and is either a superior or

  • an inferior.

  • There are five key relationshipsbut the most important is the one between father and

  • son, and one of the keys to understanding Confucius is filial piety, a son treating

  • his father with reverential 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 disrespect a neglectful father.

  • Ideally, though, both father and son will act accordingly: The son will respect the

  • father, and the father will act respectably.

  • Ultimately the goal of both father and son is to be a “superior man” (chunzi in Chinese).

  • If all men strive to be chunzi, 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. [scoots to throne] God, that’s good.

  • But first, let’s see what’s in the Secret Compartment today. Oh, an iPhone? Stan, this

  • doesn’t factor into Chinese history until much later.

  • An Open Letter to the Xia Dynasty:

  • Dear Xia Dynasty,

  • Why you gotta be so fictional?

  • You contain all of the most awesome emperors, including my favorite emperor of all time,

  • Yu the Engineer. There are so many The Greats and The Terribles among royalty and so few

  • The Engineers.

  • We need more kings like Yu The Engineer: Peter The Mortgage Broker; Danica The Script Supervisor;

  • Stan The Video Editing and Producer Guy. Those should be our kings!

  • I freakinlove you, Yu The Engineer. And the fact that youre not real- it breaks

  • my heart, in a way that could only be fixed by Yu The Engineer.

  • The circularity actually reminds me of the Mandate of Heaven.

  • Best wishes, John Green

  • But back to the chunzi: So how do you know how to behave? Well, first you have to look

  • to historical antecedents particularly the sage emperors.

  • The study of history, as well as poetry and paintings in order to understand and appreciate

  • beauty, is indispensable for a chunzi.

  • The other important aspects to chunzi-ness are contained in the Confucian ideas of ren

  • and li.

  • Ren and Li are both incredibly complex concepts that are difficult to translate, but were

  • going to do our best. Ren is usually translated aspropriety”.

  • It means understanding and practicing proper behavior in every possible situation, which

  • of course depends on who youre interacting with, hence the importance of the five relationships.

  • Li is usually translated asritualand refers to rituals associated with Chinese

  • religion, most of which involve the veneration of ancestors.