The Jixia Academic Palace

In the fourth century BC, a splendid academic institution was built in the western suburb of Linzi, the capital of the Qi State. The institution was called “Jixia Academic Palace”. Every day in the palace, hundreds of scholars and students freely discussed the problems related to their state and society and criticized their government. The government offered generous material benefits to famous scholars for their daily life, research, lectures and writing. They had high political status, but didn’t need to be involved in burdensome political affairs. Their responsibility was to put forward criticisms and suggestions for state policies and the monarch’s behaviors. The academic palace was open to any one and any speech from any school or any country. The establishment of the Jixia Academic Palace was the embodiment of free speech in the Qi State. It had a long historical origin.

The Qi State was an important feudal state of the Zhou Dynasty. It was in modern-day Shandong Province, and existed from the 11th century BC to 221 BC. Jiang Shang (also respectfully called “Jiang Taigong”), the first monarch of the Qi State, established a series of state policies for attaching importance to trade and respecting talented people. The Qi State gradually developed to a strong and rich country. In the Spring-Autumn Period (from 770 BC to 476 BC), Qi Huan-Gong, who reigned from 685 BC to 643 BC, let Guan Zhong, a very wise person, be the prime minister of his state. Guan Zhong reformed the systems of administration, economy, and military establishment of the Qi State, and then the Qi State became the first hegemon of the league of feudal states. After Qi Huan-Gong, the following monarchs treated other states with unilateralism, and the Qi State almost became a militaristic country. Though the country suffered from wars and civil unrest, the steady systems of economy still supported this country to keep steady development. Qi Jing-Gong, who reigned from 547 BC to 490 BC, made great adjustments in foreign policy. Many feudal states rallied round the Qi State as in the times of Qi Huan-Gong. But the monarch who had outstanding achievements didn’t choose a suitable heir as the mistake of Qi Huan-Gong. After the death of the monarch, the Qi State was in serious civil unrest again. The influence of the Jiang family, who was the ruling family of the old state, was gradually replaced by the Tian(田) family. In 386 BC, the Tian family was formally recognized as the ruling family of the Qi State by the king of the Zhou Dynasty, who was the supreme ruler of China. But there were still many people who were against the Tian family. In order to win wide support, the Tian family encouraged free speech and implemented more people-based policies. Tian Wu, who reigned from 374 BC-357 BC and was also given a title “Huan-Gong”, ordered to build the Jixia Academic Palace.

Qi Wei-King, who reigned from 356 BC to 320 BC, implemented a policy, “The one who criticizes me face to face will get the highest reward, the one who criticizes me by a letter will get the secondary reward, and the one who criticizes me in a public place and let me hear his opinion will get the third-class reward.” When the policy was just issued, large numbers of people rushed to the palace of the king and put forward their criticisms and suggestions. The king earnestly accepted the opinions of people and improved his policies and behaviors in time. Several months later, many people came to the palace of the king at intervals and put forward their criticisms and suggestions. A year later, the people who wanted to criticize the king couldn’t find anything which should be criticized. When the monarchs of the Yan State, the Zhao State, the Han State and the Wei State heard the achievements of the Qi State, they visited the Qi State and studied from the country. The people of the time described the success of the Qi State as “defeat other states by the government”.

Many famous scholars from various schools had been to the Jixia Academic Palace. Mencius and Xun Kuang were from the Confucian School; Tian Pian, Jie Yu and Huan Yuan were from the Taoist School; Shen Dao was from the Legalist School which advocated rule by law and heavy punishment; Song Xing and Gaozi were from the Mohist School; Yin Wen and Tian Ba were from the School of Concepts; Zou Yan was from the Yin-Yang School; moreover, Chunyu Kun and Lu Zhonglian were famous political strategists, and Sun Bin was a famous military strategist.

Every day scholars and students from various schools and different countries freely expressed their thoughts and ideas. After discussions and arguments, they influenced each other, so they gradually accepted many excellent thoughts from other schools. Later people even couldn’t distinguish which schools they exactly belonged to. For example, a famous book “Guanzi” was the representative work of the Legalist School of the Qi State, but the book shows not only the thoughts of the Legalist School, but also the thoughts of other schools. It shows the great difference between the Legalist School of the Qi State and the Legalist School of Three-Jin(which means three countries divided from the Jin State, including Zhao, Han and Wei).

Shang Yang, Han Fei and Li Si were from the Legalist School of Three-Jin. They thought a ruler must utilize strict laws and heavy punishment to control the common people, and the common people were naturally the tools of the ruler. Such thoughts were not accepted by the kings of Three-Jin, because these kings believed in people-based thoughts as the kings of the Qi State. Therefore, the advocators of the Legalist School of Three-Jin had to go to the Qin State. The kings of the Qin State completely accepted their thoughts and pushed the policies of making the common people be in the status of ignorance. The Qin State became a country of totalitarianism and militarism.

By contrast, the Legalist School of the Qi State thought that, the establishment of laws and policies of a country must be according to the will of the common people. If the common people didn’t support a law or a policy, the law or the policy should be cancelled. What a ruler should do was to satisfy the common people and then he could be supported by people. If a ruler was not able to make the common people happy, of course he should say goodbye to the throne. Moreover, the authors of the book “Guanzi” thought, bloody wars were not the only way to defeat other countries, and trade wars were another way to defeat other countries. The authors suggested the kings of the Qi State to win the love of other countries’ people by trade wars. The illustrious thoughts showed the great wisdom of excellent Chinese in that resplendent era.

In the mind of the scholars of the Qi State, the Utopia was a country with people-based constitutional monarchy (if they knew modern democracy, they would choose modern democracy), where people could freely express their ideas and happily live. Mencius said, the common people were the most important, and a country was the second, and a monarch was not important. Tian Ba even publicly criticized the “guardian god” of the royal family of the Qi State. The Jiang family, the former ruling family of the Qi State, was the offspring of Yan-Di(炎帝, a great tribal chief in the far remote times). In order to show the legitimacy of ruling power, the Tian family, who captured the power of the Jiang family, regarded Huang-Di as their first ancestor. Huang-Di was a great tribal chief as Yan-Di. In a battle, Huang-Di defeated Yan-Di, and won the leading power of tribal alliance. The Tian family publicized that Huang-Di was the greatest hero and the wisest leader. This family tried to prove the legitimacy of their ruling power. So Huang-Di of course was their “guardian god”. Perhaps Tian Ba was a member of the Tian family, but he had his own ideas. He publicly censured Huang-Di and his successors, and every day more than one thousand people followed him and listened to his speeches. At that time, the armies of five states (the Yan State and its four allies: the Zhao State, the Wei State, the Han State and the Qin State) invaded the borders of the Qi State, because the states resented Qi Min-King, the king of Qi, who pushed unilateralism and hegemonism. The Qi State was in serious danger. Nevertheless, the government of the Qi State still respected free speech. Every day in the streets of the capital or in the academic palace, Tian Ba addressed his audience in eloquent speeches, which were very harmful to the prestige of the royal family, but Qi Min-King and officials didn’t interfere with him and his followers. It was the excellent political tradition of the Qi State. Later, Tian Ba met his opponent, a child named Lu Zhonglian who was 12 years old. The child asked Tian Ba, “I heard that, if a matter is very urgent, we have to shelve other matters for a while and give first priority to the urgent matter. Now the armies of other states have invaded our cities, and our country is in extremely danger. Do you have any good idea for defeating the invaders? If you have no good idea, please do not repeat your speeches anymore.” Tian Ba was baffled. He had no good idea. He was aware that, if their country was captured, they would lose free speech. Therefore, Tian Ba quietly said to Lu Zhonglian, “I respectfully accept your advice.” Later, Tian Ba met Xu Jie, the teacher of Lu Zhonglian. He said to Xu Jie, “You have a very smart student!” Since then, Tian Ba did not repeat his speeches anymore.

Later, the armies of the five states captured the capital of the Qi State. Qi Min-King had to move to the south of his country, and asked the Chu State, his ally, for military aid. The Chu’s king sent an army to the Qi State. Unfortunately, the general of the Chu’s army had his evil scheme. He wanted to be the king of the Qi State! Then, he killed Qi Min-King. However, the general could not get the support of the Qi’s people. He finally was killed by the Qi’s people. The death of Qi Min-King disorganized the resistance of the Qi’s army. Over seventy cities of the Qi State were seized by the allied armies of the five states. Later, the four allies of the Yan State withdrew their armies, so the most territory of the Qi State was occupied by the Yan State. Only two cities, Jimo and Ju, were still held in the hands of the Qi’s people. In the city Ju, Qi Xiang-King, the apparent heir of Qi Min-King, was supported to be the king of the Qi State; in the city Jimo, Tian Dan, a young noble from the royal family, led people to indomitably resist against the Yan’s army. The army of the Yan State besieged the two cities for three years, but they were not able to capture the two cities. In 279 BC, Yan Zhao-King, the greatest king of the Yan State, died. Yue Yi, the wise commander of the Yan’s army, was dismissed by the new king. Tian Dan lost his worthy opponent, and he started to lead his army to launch counterattacks. The Qi’s people everywhere rose up and coordinated with the Qi’s army. The Yan’s army was expelled soon. The Qi’s army recovered all lost territory except the area Hejian. Only the area Hejian was still occupied by the Zhao State.

The Qi State was recovered, but the country had been seriously weakened. Qi Xiang-King and his wife tried their best to revive the old country, and insisted on pacifism. The Qi’s people enjoyed the peaceful life for half a century, while the Qin State was fighting against the eastern five countries. However, the glorious days of the Jixia Academic Palace had been passed. In 221 BC, after the other eastern five countries were occupied by the Qin State, the Qi State surrendered. The Qin State was a centralized despotic country that extremely hated free speech. The free era of China was terminated, and the Qin Empire was built. The Jixia Academic Palace was destroyed, countless books were burnt, and many scholars who criticized the emperor of the Qin Empire were buried alive.

The Jixia Academic Palace, the symbol of the free era of China, will be remembered forever by people who love freedom.

Yike Jiang avatar