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epochs, demonstrated by astronomical observations, joined to the monuments of every kind, in which the annals abound; they furnish to each other reciprocal proofs, mutually sustain each other, and together concur to show the good faith of the writers who have transmitted them to us. ... They can aid us to mount up surely, even to the first centuries after the renewal of the world, as they furnish, for that purpose, the necessary guides and assistants, such as the cycle of sixty years, ... the radical epoch of which is B. C. 2637; ... genealogies of the first sovereigns which bear the stamp of verity in the lacunæ which are found in them, and which no one has attempted to fill, though it would have been easy to do so had any one wished to add anything of his own; chronological tables which mark with exactitude the uninterrupted succession of all the emperors that have reigned for more than four thousand years.
“And, finally, those annals are in themselves the most authentic literary work there is in the world, because there is not in the world (tout l'univers) a work which has been so elaborated during the space of nearly eighteen hundred years, that has been revised, corrected, and augmented as new material was discovered, by so great a number of learned men united, provided with all possible assistance, etc.” And Pauthier indorses all this, as he closes the argument, by saying, “ Chinese history, therefore, possesses all the characters of certitude which historical criticism has a right to demand.” *
. : * Pauthier's Chine, vol. ii. pp. 32, 33.
· This opinion of Amiot, and of his biographer Pauthier, has been very extensively received. Williams, in his " Middle Kingdom” (vol. ii. p. 201), says of it, " The earliest records of the Chinese correspond rather too closely with their present character to receive full belief; but while they may be considered as unworthy of entire confidence, it will be allowed that they present an appearance of probability and naturalness hardly possessed by the early annals of Greece.”
Let us now turn to the other side, and see what grounds there are for calling in question the reliableness of that chronology, at least in regard to its earlier dates.
Pauthier gives the following as "the chronological elements that serve as a basis to the certainty of the Chinese history : ” –
"These elements are very simple and very regular. They are, I. The civil or equinoctial year, composed of three hundred and sixty-five and a quarter sidereal days, recognized and followed in China from the highest antiquity, as we shall see hereafter, and which corresponds perfectly to our Julian year; 2. The cycle of sixty years, the series of which has been continued, without interruption, from the 61st year of the reign of Hoang-ti (B. C. 2637), and with as much regularity as the centuries in European computation. Our common year 1834 thus corresponds to the 31st of the 75th sexagenary Chinese cycle. There is no other chronology which offers so much certainty for so long a space of time.” (Vol. ii. p. 27.)
1. These assumptions respecting the Chinese calendar, with its alleged Julian year of 3657 days, are based upon a passage occurring in the Shu-king, which Pauthier renders in French, thus:
“L'Empereur dit, “ Hi et Ho; une periode solaire est de trois cent soixante-six jours; en intercalant une lune et en déterminant ainsi quatre saisons, l'année se trouve exactement complétée. Cela étant parfaitement réglé, chaque functionnaire s'acquittera, selon le temps et la saison de son emploi; et tout sera dans le bon ordre."" *
Dr. Legge's translation is as follows: " The emperor said, 'Ah, you! Hi and Ho; a round year consists of three hundred sixty and six days. By means of an intercalary month do you fix the four seasons, and complete the determination of the year. Thereafter, in exact accordance with this, regulating the various officers, all the works of the year will be fully performed.” |
* Translation of Le Chou-king in Les Livres Sacrés de l'Orient, p. 47, par. 8.
+ Chin. Classics, vol. iii. part 1, p. 23. Appendix, 1.
There is some difference in these versions, though perhaps it is not greatly important as bearing on the present subject. That of Dr. Legge makes the emperor to command the astronomers by intercalating a month to fix the four seasons, and complete the determination of the year, saying that the round year consists of 366 days. The other version represents the work of adjustment as already made. The two points of interest apparently contained in it are a knowledge of the year as consisting of 366 days, and of the principle of intercalation to bring the seasons into their proper places. As to the first, the French missionaries all assume that it means only that each fourth year has 366 days, the three intervening ones having but 365. But the passage itself, in either version, has not a word to warrant this assumption. As to the second, the intercalation was not to be of one day each fourth year, but of one month. Whether this was to be done at stated intervals, in order to retain the seasons in their proper places, or once for all, does not appear. What were the principles of intercalation observed at that early period, if any, Dr. Legge says "we cannot tell.” He adds, " Previous to the Han dynasty, Chinese . history does not furnish us with the details on the subject of intercalation. In the time of that dy
nasty (B. C. 202-A. D. 221), we find what is called the Metonic cycle,* well known. It is not mentioned as any discovery of that age. . . . No doubt it came down to the Han from the Chan, and was probably known in China long before Meton reformed the Athenian calendar according to its principles, B. C. 432.”.
Dr. Legge also quotes from 4 native commentator of the Shu-king this remark : "When it is said that the year consists of 366 days, we are to understand that Yaou was speaking only in round numbers."
While, therefore, we must concede no small praise to the ancient Chinese, on account of their calendar, we can not admit that there is any evidence of the accuracy that is claimed for it. The inference, that in the 24th century before Christ they were acquainted with the Julian year of 3651 days, is an unwarrantable straining of the text.
2. The other chronological element embraced in the Chinese system, according to Pauthier, is the cycle of sixty years. We have seen that this claims to have been introduced into use in the year B. C. 2637. If it could be proved that it was actually so employed from that early date, it
* Note, p. 134.