A History of China eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 559 pages of information about A History of China.
front the prospect extended over a clear canal; all around grew countless cypresses, and flowing water meandered round the house.  There were pools there, and outlook towers; I bred birds and fishes.  In my harem there were always good musicians who played dance tunes.  When I went out I enjoyed nature or hunted birds and fished.  When I came home, I enjoyed playing the lute or reading; I also liked to concoct an elixir of life and to take breathing exercises,[3] because I did not want to die, but wanted one day to lift myself to the skies, like an immortal genius.  Suddenly I was drawn back into the official career, and became once more one of the dignitaries of the Emperor.”

[Footnote 3:  Both Taoist practices.]

Thus Lao Tz[)u]’s individualist and anarchist doctrine was not suited to form the basis of a general Chinese social order, and its employment in support of dictatorship was certainly not in the spirit of Lao Tz[)u].  Throughout history, however, Taoism remained the philosophic attitude of individuals of the highest circle of society; its real doctrine never became popularly accepted; for the strong feeling for nature that distinguishes the Chinese, and their reluctance to interfere in the sanctified order of nature by technical and other deliberate acts, was not actually a result of Lao Tz[)u]’s teaching, but one of the fundamentals from which his ideas started.

If the date assigned to Lao Tz[)u] by present-day research (the fourth instead of the sixth century B.C.) is correct, he was more or less contemporary with Chuang Tz[)u], who was probably the most gifted poet among the Chinese philosophers and Taoists.  A thin thread extends from them as far as the fourth century A.D.:  Huai-nan Tz[)u], Chung-ch’ang T’ung, Yuean Chi (210-263), Liu Ling (221-300), and T’ao Ch’ien (365-427), are some of the most eminent names of Taoist philosophers.  After that the stream of original thought dried up, and we rarely find a new idea among the late Taoists.  These gentlemen living on their estates had acquired a new means of expressing their inmost feelings:  they wrote poetry and, above all, painted.  Their poems and paintings contain in a different outward form what Lao Tz[)u] had tried to express with the inadequate means of the language of his day.  Thus Lao Tz[)u]’s teaching has had the strongest influence to this day in this field, and has inspired creative work which is among the finest achievements of mankind.

Chapter Four


1 Social and military changes

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A History of China from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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