The Warrior Spirit of China

In 1974, Andre Malraux, a famous author and statesman of France, visited Japan. At the news conference, a reporter asked the old man about the differences between Chinese culture and Japanese culture. Malraux said, “China didn’t have warrior spirit. The West Europe had chivalry, and India had it, too. But only China didn’t have it.” Perhaps some Chinese also agreed with him, because they often connected warrior spirit with Japanese Bushido. However, didn’t China really have warrior spirit? Maybe Andre Malraux didn’t know much about Chinese people in the Pre-Qin Era of ancient China, so he thought so.

About the warrior spirit of Chinese people, the Pre-Qin Era (Before 221 BC) was representative. In the great era, the main principles of Chinese warriors were loyalty (忠), faithfulness (信), propriety (礼) and righteousness (义). Everyone should follow proprieties. Proprieties were not simple rites, but included all principles of social morality.

The principles of Chinese warriors were based on the perfect patriarchal-feudal (宗法封建) systems which had been established since the Western-Zhou Dynasty (from the 11th century BC to 771 BC). The advanced patriarchal-feudal systems were founded for building a harmonious society of different classes of people.

A word said, “The Heaven-Son loves all people under the sky, a feudal monarch loves the people of his state, a minister loves the people of his feoff, and an ordinary man loves his family. If one loves what he should not love, it is called ‘arrogation’.” The word means that, the Heaven-Son (the title of the King of the Zhou Dynasty, who was the overlord of China at that time) should bear responsibility for all people of China, a feudal monarch should bear responsibility for the people in his state, a minister (also a lord) should bear responsibility for the people in his feoff, and the responsibility of an ordinary man was only to maintain his family. So, common people didn’t have obligations to serve the monarch or the lord. The military service was not a forced obligation, but voluntary. When a country was attacked by others or the country was going to attack others, the monarch would call the citizens of the capital together and distribute weapons, armors and chariots. If anyone refused to enter the service, he wouldn’t be punished.

If a monarch or a lord didn’t cherish his people, though the labor service or military service was in the name of state interests or collective interests, the common people were often enraged, and the monarch or the lord would have to swallow a bitter fruit. In the Warring-States Period, in a border clash between the Zou (邹) State and the Lu (鲁) State, the soldiers of the Zou State refused to join battle. The officers had no idea. They didn’t want to punish their soldiers, but fought desperately by themselves for fulfilling their responsibility. At last, the Zou State didn’t lose one soldier, but thirty-three officers died in battle. Zou Mu-Gong (邹穆公), the monarch of the Zou State, felt very worried and then complained to Mencius, “I lost thirty-three officials, but no one from the common people died. If I punish the common people, they are too many and I am not able to punish all of them. If I don’t punish them, they still won’t rescue their officials while the officials were in deathful danger. How could I do?” Mencius said, “In disaster years, the people of your country suffered from famine, but you still had abundant food and riches. Moreover, your officials actually didn’t report the tribulation of the common people to you. Are the people willing to die for them? If you treat your people well, your people will also treat you well and be willing to die for your officials.” Such example doesn’t mean that common people didn’t have state consciousness or collective consciousness. On the contrary, the common people in the Pre-Qin Era paid much attention to the policies of their state and the behaviors of their monarch and officials. They admired warrior spirit and didn’t fear death, but they couldn’t accept any incorrect or coercive order, and they bravely refused to do what they were not willing to do. They thought the monarch and officials should bear more responsibilities for the state than them, but they didn’t blindly worship any one. So, in the Pre-Qin Era, the common people were able to prevent obscurantism and protect their human rights.

Differing from Japanese warriors, Chinese warriors had their own independent thoughts and judgment. The reason was that People-based (民本) thoughts were popular in the Pre-Qin Era. In that great era, people thought freely, loved freely, spoke freely and acted freely. If a monarch offended an ordinary person, the ordinary person was able to take revenge and others would admire him. So except some mad monarchs, most monarchs didn’t dare to offend any ordinary person. Many Chinese warriors were deeply influenced by people-based thoughts. The story of Chuni (鉏麑) was a typical example.

Chuni was a warrior in the Spring-Autumn Period (from 770 BC to the fifth century BC). His master was Jin Ling-Gong (晋灵公), a young monarch of the Jin (晋) State which was in modern-day Shanxi Province. Jin Ling-Gong was a wanton man. Zhao Dun (赵盾), the prime minister, often expostulated with him. The young monarch was sick of Zhao Dun, and actually ordered Chuni to assassinate Zhao Dun. In the next morning, Chuni arrived at the residence of Zhao Dun. At this time, Zhao Dun dressed in a natty official uniform and was ready to go to the monarch’s palace for managing state affairs, but the time was early, so he had a doze, but he still sat uprightly. When Chuni saw the behaviors of Zhao Dun, he remembered that Zhao Dun was a loyal and righteous man and he treated the common people well. So Chuni sighed and said to himself, “The man doesn’t forget reverence, so he is the hope of people. If I kill the hope of people, I am a disloyal person. But if I don’t obey the order of the monarch, I am an unfaithful person. Since I have to meet one of such ends, I prefer to die.” Then, Chuni killed himself.

We can see, in the heart of Chuni who was an ordinary warrior, the position of the common people was equal to the position of a monarch! When we read the stories of the warriors of the Pre-Qin Era of ancient China, we often feel deeply touched. The great warrior spirit disappeared with the end of the Pre-Qin Era. In 221 BC, the free world of the eastern six states was destroyed finally by the despotic power of the Qin State. The perfect warrior spirit died. After one thousand years, Japanese established their Bushido which was modeled after the warrior spirit of China. But Japanese Bushido was too extreme, and regarded a warrior as a tool of despotism. The more tragic Japanese warriors were “ninja”, and they lived in complete darkness. The warrior spirit of the Pre-Qin Era of ancient China couldn’t be imposed upon by despotism and militarism, but Japanese Bushido was often imposed upon by despotism and militarism. The warrior spirit of the Pre-Qin of ancient China was perfect, but had completely disappeared before two thousand years. Japanese Bushido was not perfect, but it still lives in Japan. Imperfectness is better than absence…

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