Taoism in Ancient China

Taoism in Ancient China
Murray Rothbard

The following is an extended quote from Chapter One of
the late, great Austrian economist Murray Rothbard’s book, “An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought”, from a section entitled “Taoism in Ancient China”.

1.10 Taoism in Ancient China

The only other body of ancient thought worth mentioning is the schools of political philosophy in ancient China. Though remarkable for its insights, ancient Chinese thought had virtually no impact outside the isolated Chinese Empire in later centuries, and so will be dealt with only briefly.

The three main schools of political thought: the Legalists, the Taoists, and the Confucians, were established from the sixth to the fourth centuries BC. Roughly, the Legalists, the latest of the three broad schools, simply believed in maximal power to the state, and advised rulers how to increase that power. The Taoists were the world’s first libertarians, who believed in virtually no interference by the state in economy or society, and the Confucians were middle-of-the-roaders on this critical issue. The towering figure of Confucius (551 — 479 BC), whose name was actually Ch’iu Chung-ni, was an erudite man from an impoverished but aristocratic family of the fallen Yin dynasty, who became Grand Marshal of the state of Sung. In practice, though far more idealistic, Confucian thought differed little from the Legalists, since Confucianism was largely dedicated to installing an educated philosophically minded bureaucracy to rule in China.


Laozi 老子 (Lao Tzu), the World’s First Libertarian

By far the most interesting of the Chinese political philosophers were the Taoists, founded by the immensely important but shadowy figure of Lao Tzu. Little is known about Lao Tzu’s life, but he was apparently a contemporary and personal acquaintance of Confucius. Like the latter he came originally from the state of Sung and was a descendant of lower aristocracy of the Yin dynasty. Both men lived in a time of turmoil, wars and statism, but each reacted very differently. For Lao Tzu worked out the view that the individual and his happiness was the key unit of society. If social institutions hampered the individual’s flowering and his happiness, then those institutions should be reduced or abolished altogether. To the individualist Lao Tzu, government, with its “laws and regulations more numerous than the hairs of an ox,” was a vicious oppressor of the individual, and “more to be feared than fierce tigers.” Government, in sum, must be limited to the smallest possible minimum; “inaction” became the watchword for Lao Tzu, since only inaction of government can permit the individual to flourish and achieve happiness. Any intervention by government, he declared, would be counterproductive, and would lead to confusion and turmoil. The first political economist to discern the systemic effects of government intervention, Lao Tzu, after referring to the common experience of mankind, came to his penetrating conclusion: “The more artificial taboos and restrictions there are in the world, the more the people are impoverished … The more that laws and regulations are given prominence, the more thieves and robbers there will be.”

The worst of government interventions, according to Lao Tzu, was heavy taxation and war. “The people hunger because theft superiors consume an excess in taxation” and, “where armies have been stationed, thorns and brambles grow. After a great war, harsh years of famine are sure to follow.”

The wisest course is to keep the government simple and inactive, for then the world “stabilizes itself.”

As Lao Tzu put it: “Therefore, the Sage says: I take no action yet the people transform themselves, I favor quiescence and the people right themselves, I take no action and the people enrich themselves…”

Deeply pessimistic, and seeing no hope for a mass movement to correct oppressive government, Lao Tzu counseled the now familiar Taoist path of withdrawal, retreat, and limitation of one’s desires.


Zhuangzi 莊子 (Chuang Tzu), the World’s First Individualist Anarchist

Two centuries later, Lao Tzu’s great follower Chuang Tzu (369—c.286 BC) built on the master’s ideas of laissez-faire to push them to their logical conclusion: individualist anarchism. The influential Chuang Tzu, a great stylist who wrote in allegorical parables, was therefore the first anarchist in the history of human thought. The highly learned Chuang Tzu was a native of the state of Meng (now probably in Honan province), and also descended from the old aristocracy. A minor official in his native state, Chuang Tzu’s fame spread far and wide throughout China, so much so that King Wei of the Ch’u kingdom sent an emissary to Chuang Tzu bearing great gifts and urging him to become the king’s chief minister of state. Chuang Tzu’s scornful rejection of the king’s offer is one of the great declarations in history on the evils underlying the trappings of state power and the contrasting virtues of the private life:

A thousand ounces of gold is indeed a great reward, and the office of chief minister is truly an elevated position. But have you, sir, not seen the sacrificial ox awaiting the sacrifices at the royal shrine of state? It is well cared for and fed for a few years, caparisoned with rich brocades, so that it will be ready to be led into the Great Temple. At that moment, even though it would gladly change places with any solitary pig, can it do so? So, quick and be off with you! Don’t sully me. I would rather roam and idle about in a muddy ditch, at my awn amusement, than to be put under the restraints that the ruler would impose. I will never take any official service, and thereby I will [be free] to satisfy my own purposes.

Chuang Tzu reiterated and embellished Lao Tzu’s devotion to laissez-faire and opposition to state rule: “There has been such a thing as letting mankind alone; there has never been such a thing as governing mankind [with success].” Chuang Tzu was also the first to work out the idea of “spontaneous order,” independently discovered by Proudhon in the nineteenth century, and developed by F.A. von Hayek of the Austrian School in the twentieth. Thus, Chuang Tzu: “Good order results spontaneously when things are let alone.”

But while people in their “natural freedom” can run their lives very well by themselves, government rules and edicts distort that nature into an artificial Procrustean bed. As Chuang Tzu wrote, “The common people have a constant nature; they spin and are clothed, till and are fed … it is what may be called their ‘natural freedom.'” These people of natural freedom were born and died themselves, suffered from no restrictions or restraints, and were neither quarrelsome nor disorderly. If rulers were to establish rites and laws to govern the people, “it would indeed be no different from stretching the short legs of the duck and trimming off the long legs of the heron” or “haltering a horse.” Such rules would not only be of no benefit, but would work great harm. In short, Chuang Tzu concluded, the world “does simply not need governing; in fact it should not be governed.”

Chuang Tzu, moreover, was perhaps the first theorist to see the state as a brigand writ large: “A petty thief is put in jail. A great brigand becomes a ruler of a State.” Thus, the only difference between state rulers and out-and-out robber chieftains is the size of their depredations. This theme of ruler-as-robber was to be repeated, as we have seen, by Cicero, and later by Christian thinkers in the Middle Ages, though of course these were arrived at independently.


Bao Jingyan 鮑敬言 (Pao Ching-yen), China’s own “V”
no image available

Taoist thought flourished for several centuries, culminating in the most determinedly anarchistic thinker, Pao Ching-yen, who lived in the early fourth century AD, and about whose life nothing is known. Elaborating on Chuang-Tzu, Pao contrasted the idyllic ways of ancient times that had had no rulers and no government with the misery inflicted by the rulers of the current age. In the earliest days, wrote Pao, “there were no rulers and no officials. [People] dug wells and drank, tilled fields and ate. When the sun rose, they went to work; and when it set, they rested. Placidly going their ways with no encumbrances, they grandly achieved their own fulfillment.” In the stateless age, there was no warfare and no disorder:

Where knights and hosts could not be assembled there was no warfare afield … Ideas of using power for advantage had not yet burgeoned. Disaster and disorder did not occur. Shields and spears were not used; city walls and moats were not built … People munched their food and disported themselves; they were carefree and contented.

Into this idyll of peace and contentment, wrote Pao Ching-yen, there came the violence and deceit instituted by the state. The history of government is the history of violence, of the strong plundering the weak. Wicked tyrants engage in orgies of violence; being rulers they “could give free rein to all desires.” Furthermore, the government’s institutionalization of violence meant that the petty disorders of daily life would be greatly intensified and expanded on a much larger scale. As Pao put it:

Disputes among the ordinary people are merely trivial matters, for what scope of consequences can a contest of strength between ordinary fellows generate? They have no spreading lands to arouse avarice … they wield no authority through which they can advance their struggle. Their power is not such that they can assemble mass followings, and they command no awe that might quell [such gatherings] by their opponents. How can they compare with a display of the royal anger, which can deploy armies and move battalions, making people who hold no enmities attack states that have done no wrong?

To the common charge that he has overlooked good and benevolent rulers, Pao replied that the government itself is a violent exploitation of the weak by the strong. The system itself is the problem, and the object of government is not to benefit the people, but to control and plunder them. There is no ruler who can compare in virtue with a condition of non-rule.

Pao Ching-yen also engaged in a masterful study in political psychology by pointing out that the very existence of institutionalized violence by the state generates imitative violence among the people. In a happy and stateless world, declared Pao, the people would naturally turn to thoughts of good order and not be interested in plundering their neighbors. But rulers oppress and loot the people and “make them toil without rest and wrest away things from them endlessly.” In that way, theft and banditry are stimulated among the unhappy people, and arms and armor, intended to pacify the public, are stolen by bandits to intensify their plunder. “All these things are brought about because there are rulers.” The common idea, concluded Pao, that strong government is needed to combat disorders among the people, commits the serious error of confusing cause and effect.


Sima Qian 司馬遷 (Ssu-ma Ch’ien), the World’s First Laissez-Faire Economist

The only Chinese with notable views in the more strictly economic realm was the distinguished second century B.C. historian, Ssu-ma Ch’ien (145-c.90 BC). Ssu-ma was an advocate of laissez-faire, and pointed out that minimal government made for abundance of food and clothing, as did the abstinence of government from competing with private enterprise. This was similar to the Taoist view, but Ssu-ma, a worldly and sophisticated man, dismissed the idea that people could solve the economic problem by reducing desires to a minimum. People, Ssu-ma maintained, preferred the best and most attainable goods and services, as well as ease and comfort. Men are therefore habitual seekers after wealth.

Since Ssu-ma thought very little of the idea of limiting one’s desires, he was impelled, far more than the Taoists, to investigate and analyze free market activities. He therefore saw that specialization and the division of labor on the market produced goods and services in an orderly fashion:

Each man has only to be left to utilize his own abilities and exert his strength to obtain what he wishes … When each person works away at his own occupation and delights in his own business, then like water flowing downward, goods will naturally flow ceaselessly day and night without being summoned, and the people will produce commodities without having been asked.

To Ssu-ma, this was the natural outcome of the free market. “Does this not ally with reason? Is it not a natural result?” Furthermore, prices are regulated on the market, since excessively cheap or dear prices tend to correct themselves and reach a proper level.

But if the free market is self-regulating, asked Ssu-ma perceptively, “what need is there for government directives, mobilizations of labor, or periodic assemblies?” What need indeed?

Ssu-ma Ch’ien also set forth the function of entrepreneurship on the market. The entrepreneur accumulates wealth and functions by anticipating conditions (i.e., forecasting) and acting accordingly. In short, he keeps “a sharp eye out for the opportunities of the times.”

Finally, Ssu-ma was one of the world’s first monetary theorists. He pointed out that increased quantity and a debased quality of coinage by government depreciates the value of money and makes prices rise. And he saw too that government inherently tended to engage in this sort of inflation and debasement.

The ROC vs. the PRC

The ROC vs. the PRC
Bevin Chu
July 24, 2007


The ROC vs. the PRC: Obviously, the ROC is not “Taiwan,” and the PRC is not just the mainland portion of China. The major difference is the de jure status of Mongolia.

Many “Sinologists” (China experts) commit a universal and unforgivable blunder. They erroneously use the term “Republic of China” as if it referred only to the offshore Chinese island of Taiwan, and the term “China” as if it referred only to the mainland portion of China.

Ordinary Americans can be forgiven for dismissing these distinctions as unworthy of their attention, but “China experts” should know better. These constitutional law distinctions lie at the very heart of the cross-straits conflict, and could spell the difference between continued peace and nuclear catastrophe.

These legal distinctions are not subject to “interpretation.” They are explicit provisions of the Republic of China Constitution. Taiwan independence leaders know this better than anyone else. They know it, and they hate it. They might try to deceive Americans about Taiwan’s current status. They might repeat the catechism, “Taiwan is already independent!” But in their heart of hearts they know that until and unless they author an new constitution and declare formal independence, Taiwan will remain an integral part of China.

See:
The Name Game: From ROC to ROT?
East and West Germany, East and West China
The Republic of China is not Taiwan

Legend Details

Black dotted lines are political boundaries drawn by the ROC. The formal names of these political entities are in black text.

Red solid lines are political boundaries drawn by the PRC. The formal names of these political entities are in red text.


White areas represent the territories claimed by the ROC but not the PRC.

Republic of China
36 provinces
14 municipalities
2 areas
1 special administrative region

People’s Republic of China
23 provinces
4 municipalities
5 autonomous regions
2 special administrative regions
1 territorial base

Includes Chongqing as a municipality and Gansu-Qinghai border change

Source: Wikipedia, translated into English by Pryaltonian from the Chinese Wikipedia.

On the Tenth Anniversary of Hong Kong’s Retrocession

On the Tenth Anniversary of Hong Kong’s Retrocession
Bevin Chu
July 8, 2007

Ten years ago, on July 1, 1997, Hong Kong, a region extorted from China at gunpoint by the relentlessly expansionist British Empire was finally returned to China.


Hong Kong, China


Unequal Treaty of Nanking ceding Hong Kong to the British, signed at gunpoint aboard the HMS Cornwallis in 1842

When I say Hong Kong was returned to China, I mean it was returned to the Chinese nation, not to any particular political authority.

Some western colonialists and imperialists lament that “Hong Kong was handed over to the Butchers of Beijing.”

Nonsense.

Suppose Qing dynasty China had sailed halfway around the globe to Britain in 1842, forced the British to buy opium from China, then annexed the southern England seaport of Southampton, and turned it into a Chinese colony?


Southampton, England


Titanic Leaving Southampton Dockside Wednesday April 10, 1912

Now suppose that a century and a half later China returned Southampton to Britain? Would these same western colonialists and imperialists lament that “Southampton was handed over to Thatcher, Thatcher, Milk Snatcher?”

Land annexed by a foreign aggressor must be returned to the nation from which it was seized. The issue is which nation owns the land, not which political authority is in power.

Which political authority is in power in China at the moment of return is a separate issue, and is no excuse not to return stolen real estate.

Besides, as the following June 1997 Asiaweek article reveals, Hong Kong was hardly ruled as benevolently as western colonialists and imperialists would have the world believe.

See: When Eccentrics Ruled the Roost

Asiaweek story
When Eccentrics Ruled the Roost
Far away from London under the dazzling tropical sun, Hong Kong’s first governors turned to treachery, warmongering and not a little backbiting
By Arthur Hacker


Asiaweek: When Eccentrics Ruled the Roost

THERE IS A POPULAR two-dimensional image of the British colonial in the early days of Hong Kong: he is depicted as a crimson-faced, gin-swilling planter or army colonel with a gigantic white mustache who waves a fly whisk and brays “boy” in a loud, plummy voice. Actually, this sort of creature was a rarity in Hong Kong — though Sir Henry Pottinger, the Colony’s first Governor (1843-1844) and previous Administrator (1841-1843), had some of the qualifications. He was a heavy drinker, had once been a colonel in the 5th Bombay Native Infantry and sported an impressive mustache.

That, however, is where his resemblance to the Colonel Blimp stereotype ended. Pottinger spoke with a soft Irish brogue and as a teenager had been a remarkably daring spy. His brush with espionage began in 1810, after London caught wind of a plan by France and Russia to form an alliance to invade British India through Persia. Disguised first as a Tartar horse dealer and later as a holy man, young Pottinger successfully blarneyed his way through Sind and Baluchistan, which were not a part of British-held India at the time. Pottinger’s mission was a great success, although in the end the French Emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte, gave up the idea of invading India and attacked Russia instead.

On becoming Governor of the new colony, Pottinger was obliged by the Charter of Hong Kong of 1843 to establish two civilian bodies, the Executive and Legislative Councils. Pottinger had a military background and did not take kindly to being advised by civilians. He was able to frustrate the concept of a two-council administration by a simple device: he appointed the same people to both bodies.

The councils were small and — happily for Pottinger –never met due to the lack of a quorum. One member, John Morrison, a brilliant young Chinese linguist, died within a few days of his appointment. Another councilor, the colorless former Administrator, Alexander Johnston, went on a very long sick leave. As Pottinger was a major-general, and the sole remaining councilor, the redoubtable William Caine, only a humble major, the Governor was able to do exactly what he wanted, often with disastrous results.

Pottinger’s cavalier approach to government caused enormous problems. All treaties are unequal, but some treaties are more unequal than others. The Commercial Treaty of the Bogue in 1843 was unique because the English and the Chinese versions were different. The Chinese Commissioner, Keying (Qiying), was alleged to have surreptitiously inserted a number of trade regulations into the Chinese text that were not in the agreed English version. This created chaos in shipping and trade, but Pottinger, although embarrassed at being misled, did not seem to harbor any resentment toward Keying over the incident. He treated it as a part of the political game and they occasionally got drunk together. Pottinger even named his son after the Chinese Commissioner.

Gutzlaff tried to save the souls of those he was poisoning

Keying inserted his secret clauses after the final draft had been approved, but the blame for the incident fell rather unfairly on the shoulders of the interpreter, Robert Thom, who with Morrison had prepared the original document. There was a critical shortage of interpreters at that time because it was a capital offense in China for a Chinese to teach a foreigner the language. Pottinger wanted Thom as his Chinese Secretary. But when Thom was sent to the new northern Treaty Port of Ningpo, Pottinger had to make do with the Rev. Karl Gutzlaff.

A former Pomeranian saddle maker, Gutzlaff arrived in the Portuguese enclave of Macau in 1831. He was a missionary and printed thousands of religious tracts, which he gave to his converts to distribute. These venal “rice-Christians” sold them back to the printer, who resold them to Gutzlaff. This tended to frustrate his hopeless grand design “to evangelize en masse a great nation.” Early in his career he had acted as an interpreter on an opium ship owned by Jardine, Matheson & Co., and helped to smuggle the drug into China. With one hand Gutzlaff sold illegal opium and with the other he handed out religious tracts designed to save the souls of the Chinese he was poisoning. When Gutzlaff died he was discovered to be extremely rich.

Incidentally, the opium trade was not confined to the British. The leading American opium firm was Russell & Co. Its taipan was an old sea captain named Warren Delano. He was at one time the American vice-consul in Canton (Guangzhou) and was a staunch Republican. His political philosophy is best summed up by his somewhat bigoted statement, “I will not say that all Democrats are horse thieves, but it does seem that all horse thieves are Democrats.” He was rather upset when his daughter married a Democrat, James Roosevelt. Her son, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, became the 32nd U.S. president. He was also a Democrat.

— Arthur Hacker, a longtime resident of Hong Kong, is a historian and artist

The Angel of Austria’s Jews

The Angel of Austria’s Jews
by Mark O’Neil
South China Morning Post


Ho Fengshan, The Angel of Austria’s Jews

Comment: JourneyEast is a China oriented website designed and maintained by a good friend of mine, a talented professional web designer in San Francisco.

I revisited her site recently and noticed an excellent article worth recommending.

Apparently China had its own counterpart to Oskar Schindler, John Rabe, and Minnie Vautrin. He was Ho Fengshan, the Republic of China Consul General to Vienna, Austria.

Ho saved the lives of thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of Austrian Jews just prior to WWII.

June 7, 2007, is the 70th anniversary of the June 7, 1937 Marco Polo Bridge Incident. The Seven Seven Incident, as it is also known, was a fierce battle between the defending Chinese National Revolutionary Army and the invading Japanese Imperial Army that marked the beginning of the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945).

That makes today as good a day as any to read about an unsung Chinese hero of WWII.

Read all about it at:
The Angel of Austria’s Jews

Americans fly the flag for July 4, as long as it’s not made in China

Americans fly the flag for July 4, as long as it’s not made in China
Tom Baldwin in Washington
From The Times
July 5, 2007


Stars and Stripes and the Statue of Liberty

Comment:
This article provides a sobering insight into what is wrong with many Americans’ understanding of America’s values, especially on the Fourth of July, a day on which America’s values ought to be more clearly understood than any.

If America stands for anything, it stands for the rights of the individual.

What are those rights?

Those rights are explicitly enumerated in many of the state constitutions. They are the right to “life, liberty, and property.”

Rhode Island was the very first state to declare independence from the British Empire. As Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution of the State of Rhode Island, puts it:

“No person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property… “

A flag is a piece of colored fabric.

Americans fly these pieces of colored fabric on the Fourth of July to celebrate their hard-won right to life, liberty, and property.

If Americans do not have the right to use their own hard-earned money to purchase a piece of colored fabric, then hang that piece of fabric on a pole in their own front yard, then what has happened to those precious rights?

If Americans can be thrown in jail for 90 days or fined US$1,000, merely because a piece of fabric that they purchased with their own money, and displayed in their own front yard, met with the disapproval of their “public servants,” then what has happened to the very rights all those fluttering flags were meant to celebrate?

I can’t be the only person who has noticed the irony, can I?



From The Times
July 5, 2007
Americans fly the flag for July 4, as long as it’s not made in China
Tom Baldwin in Washington

As if raising and waving millions of Stars and Stripes was not patriotic enough at Independence Day celebrations yesterday, the flags now have to be made in the US.

The state of Minnesota has taken the most draconian action, requiring all US flags sold in the state to be of American manufacture. Violations of the law, which comes into force at the end of the year, will be punished by a $1,000 (£495) fine or 90 days in jail.

From this month, schools and colleges in Arizona are being forced to equip every classroom with a US-made Stars and Stripes – sometimes known as “Old Glory”.

Tennessee state law already stipulates that any US flag bought with public money cannot be imported from another country, while similar Bills are being considered by legislators in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Such measures chime with the protectionist mood sweeping America. The Democrats, in particular, have become increasingly concerned about preserving manufacturing jobs that they believe are being destroyed by free trade and cheap foreign imports.

In this cause Old Glory has, as ever, emerged as a potent symbol. Last year Republicans failed by a single vote to get the two-thirds majority they needed in the US Senate for a constitutional amendment banning the burning of the flag.

The sponsor of the Minnesota legislation, the Democratic state congressman Tom Rukavina, said that his Bill was inspired by seeing flags made overseas during a memorial service for the victims of September 11, 2001.

Yesterday he was handing out 1,000 miniature flags – presumably US-made – at Independence Day parades in his district. “The biggest honour that you can give the flag is that it be made by American workers in the United States of America,” he said.

“Nothing is more embarrassing to me than a plastic flag made in China. This replica of freedom we so respect should be made in this country . . . I think this Bill is about jobs, jobs for Americans.”

His proposal was backed by fellow congressman Larry Howes, a descendant of Betsy Ross, the Revolutionary War seamstress who, according to American mythology, was instructed by George Washington to sew the first Stars and Stripes on to a piece of cloth. “It’s time to bring the flag home,” Mr Howes said.

Not surprisingly, the series of new laws is supported by the Flag Manufacturers’ Association of America. It has complained about a flood of US flags, valued at $5.3 million, imported mostly from China last year.

The Chinese, whose high-speed response to market demands has made US industry look leaden-footed in recent years, appear to have spotted a gap in the market after the 9/11 attacks. In 2000 America imported $748,000 of US flags, mostly from Taiwan [the Taiwan region of China]. In 2001, however, that figure rose to $51.7 million – mostly from China [the mainland region of China].