By Joseph R. Levenson
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Extra resources for Confucian China and Its Modern Fate: Volume Three: The Problem of Historical Significance
Yet, the rebuke was surely muted, and chiin-fien was largely an interest of the Emperor, not the bureaucracy. It was the Emperor, that is, his dynasty depending on effective centralization, who was most concerned with curbing landed power; for that might eventually drain the State and goad a slipping peasantry to riot. The chiin-fien effort with the ching-t'ien inspiration was a natural expedient for monarchs. Why, then, should we find the archmonarchical Ch'in State always charged with destroying the ching-t'ien system, and outraging thus, as in other ways, the Confucian sense of what was right?
The c Ming History' records a scholar's unequivocal statement that, for ultimate peace in the Empire, ching-t'ien had to be put into practice. Hsien-fien, field limitation, would not do; chiin-shui, tax equalization, would not do. 31 And at the end of Gh'ing, when foreign ideals insistently claimed attention, it was for the most part ching-t'ien, with merely its faint classical intimations, not the amply documented chiin-tfien, which Chinese thinkers identified with Western egalitarianisms. I t may have been precisely the elusive historical status of ching-t'ien which made it so adaptable.
The modern traditionalists were calling attention to Chinese verities not to encourage new thought but to preclude it; they meant to show the absurdity of cultural apostasy. 61 These conservatives, then, were not really taking chingt'ien as their literal concern. It represented the traditional Chinese culture to which Chinese owed commitment. And in fostering tradition thus, in the 'national essence', nonConfucian way, these defenders of the old were not remote from the modern point of view. When they used the chingt'ien-socialist argument to confound genuine radicals, they were talking the radicals' language.