From Modernity to After-Modernity (18)

 Part 2. Theoretical considerations
Chapter 4. About societal governance and societal evolution

4.7. About the institutions of governance (part 2)

I touched very briefly on the subject of Chinese governance in "4.6.3. Societal reproduction – Individual communion 2. China unified its early kingdoms along the Yellow River some 3000 years BC under the '3 sovereigns' and the '5 emperors' ". What follows is an expansion on the content of that text.

Animism was the belief system that all tribesmen shared, starting roughly 100-150,000 years ago.

I stated, in "Chapter 1. About the formation of human knowledge. 1.1. The context:  The long history of homo-sapients delineates two eras. 1. tribal societies – animism ", that: "...original tribal societies are similar in their functioning and in their belief systems all around the world. That does not mean that they were one and the same. The differences in their environmental contexts shaped different forms, colors, and sounds but the substance of their beliefs was based on the long haul observation of the rhythms of nature that are largely identical everywhere on earth and so the abstractions derived from those observations were largely of a similar nature: all particles in the whole were seen interconnecting among themselves, all particles were perceived as being animated by the energetic flow that powers the universe which gave its conceptual root to the tribal worldview or animism, the here and now was perceived as a constant transformation from one polarity to the other (day and night, white and black, etc…)." The tribal societal context.

After emerging around 10-13,000 years ago agriculture fostered an increase in population which generated a differentiated societal response according to the different contexts tribes were living in
  • in the TriContinent-Area the space was narrow and the alluvial plains were relatively small. Solving an excessive increase of population in the traditional sense by splitting the tribe in two must thus very fast have reached the physical limits of the alluvial plains.
  • The traditional tribal response to a population size surpassing the Dunbar number was to split the tribe (1). One part of the population stayed within the original territory of the tribe while the other part  – or allied and went living with a neighboring tribe whose headcount was lower than the Dunbar number  – or took over unoccupied land and started to build a new tribal group from scratch but always with the help from the mother tribe. Once the tribes had shared the whole territory any further population increase had to be absorbed  – or by increasing the size of the tribe's population  – or by migrating to areas outside of the territory of the union of tribes. As is implied by the Dunbar number increasing the size of the tribe above its upper limit of some 180 members concluded in the destabilization of its societal ways and soon after collapse would follow. When the path chosen was to accept an increase in population a response was needed to manage higher numbers in a sustainable way otherwise an inevitable destabilization was to follow. Such a response was found in structuring the tribe along the lines of power. To avoid further destabilization the strongest man and his gang imposed his rule to his fellow-tribesmen and after stabilizing his power he set his sight on neighboring tribes and so emerged slowly the historical era of Early-Kingdoms that Arnold Toynbee studied extensively.
  • in the vast alluvial plains of China managing an increasing population by the traditional way of splitting the tribe in two could go on and on over Milena before ever reaching the physical limits of the territory.
So an increasing population resulted in an increasing territory while the tribal form of organization was simply further reproduced. The Chinese territory grew over thousands of years simply by maintaining the tribal path of knowledge and splitting the group upon reaching the upper acceptable limits.

The theory exposed here shows that the link between an increasing population and the size of the available alluvial plains is shaping a given societal outcome:
  • or rupture: small size alluvial plains allowed for a very limited quantity of tribal splits before the tribes occupied the complete surface of their alluvial plains. This is when power had to set in, to organize society, in order to avoid societal collapse.
  • or continuity: huge alluvial plains allowed tribes to split and expand their territory over very long timespans. The territory grew at the rhythm of population growth. There was never a need to recourse to power so the tribal structures continued to reproduce over the generations. With the principle of knowledge steering societal organization the shaman acted as an intermediary between the tribesmen on one side and nature and the universe on the other side.  The retreats of the men of knowledge furthermore helped steer a path of co-existence between the tribes that over the many centuries gradually built a feel of belonging to a common world.

A.   Continuity versus rupture

History confirms that the emergence of agriculture in a different physical context led to a bifurcation in societal ways:
  • obviously, with the benefit of hindsight we come to understand that continuity prevailed in China. The tribal form of organization continued to thrive. The men of knowledge kept their traditional roles and the worldview evolved incrementally over time. The tribes multiplied and expanded the occupied territory while the " 'soul-twin' or sage men of knowledge "  assumed a symbolic presence in the minds of the tribesmen as the unifier of the narrative of their worldview throughout the whole territory. The sharing of a worldview in its common contextual forms, over the centuries and milena, gradually drew the attention of all to the differentiations that had been building up between their territory and their neighboring territories. Observing these differences people grew apart and were wary of the people living far away in the other territories.
  • obviously, with the benefit of hindsight we observe that rupture prevailed in the Tri-Continent Area. Everywhere we see that power was strongly anchored. The men of knowledge were heading factions that were in competition with other factions. Competition between factions vied to attract the ears of the men of power. The strongest among those men of power were competing to conquer neighboring territories and the belief of  the factions they associated with were seen converting and growing their flocks in these conquerred territories. All this suggests that the tribal model of organization was dismantled, early on after agriculture took root, replaced by Early-Kingdoms that were at the mercy of a rapid cycle of emergence to fall as Arnold Toynbee documented.

Before disposing of a theory on the differentiation between continuity and rupture the question that always popped in my mind was why had the TriContinent-Area evolved so obviously, and so early on, on a path to power. I wrote the following about this question in: "1. About the formation of human knowledge. The long history of homo-sapients delineates two eras. 2. power societies – ideology”: "How has power been justified to take over from non-power tribal societies? In other words how could people who lived as equals, and who took the group's decisions on the base of unanimous consent, agree to let go all of that for a master and slave relation?
The first answers we find come from written matters carved on stone and tortoise shells or painted on pottery some 4500 years ago at the earliest which is some eight thousand years after the power build-up started. So these first eight thousand years of power societies are largely unknown territory. This is nevertheless when the debates about power, the formation of religious worldviews, and the differentiation between men of knowledge and “artists” took place. The first written texts relate to the state of thinking reached at the end of these initial 8000 years. But we don't know how these ideas came to be what they were.
In other words the vast gap between the worldview of animism and the worldview narrated in the first written texts remains largely unexplained

That question should also be expanded to why did China chose such a different path. In other words how did animistic tribes evolve into power societies in present day China? The answers to these questions are found in the physical context in which agriculture emerged.

In, 7.2.1, I mentioned the following physical factors:
  • size of territory:  I wrote that the “TriContinent-Area only disposes of a narrow strip of arable land, the rest of their territory is desert, and it appears small indeed when compared to the immense Chinese land mass”.
  • size of alluvial tillable plain: I concluded that “China disposed of roughly 1,000,000 km2 of alluvial tillable plains while Egypt disposed of 40,000 km2 and Mesopotamia merely 15,000 km2. The disparity in the figures amply demonstrates China’s potential agricultural advantage…”
  • TriContinent-Area exchanges vs China isolation:
–   permanent exchanges, between TriContinent-Area tribes and tribes from farther away in the 3 continents, suggest the idea that cultures and economies were mixing. Now historically the mixing of cultures has always been observed to be accompanied by conflicts and the rise of winners and losers which suggests the idea of rupture and cycles. Rupture evokes the idea of stop and go; of one civilization being interrupted  and replaced by a new one within  a relatively short timespan.

–   because of the size of China’s territory tribes had been living in isolation from the exterior. Exchanges between tribes were thus limited to the internal realm. This implies that the long duration helped fostering a strong identity and a stable vision of the world. These are indeed matters that develop incrementally without interruptions over the long haul and are naturally being shared by all within the territory. All this suggests continuity in the process of development and so a civilization that lasts and grows old and wise...

In order words a combination between the size of available alluvial plains and the nature of the exchanges with outside tribes (many exchanges or isolation) formed the physical context. In China the physical context helped to refine a worldview and culture that are intricate abstractions derived from the long haul observation of the rhythms of nature. In the TriContinent-Area the ruptures caused by growing populations within a narrow context led to cycles of power where the winner takes-all imposed his worldview on his newly conquered subjects. The worldview and culture had thus never the benefit of the very long haul to mature. Furthermore, as the men of knowledge had differentiated their worldviews in order to catch the ears of the men of power these narratives had slipped further and further away from the animistic accumulated knowledge base derived from the observation of the rhythms of nature over tens of thousands of years. This double trend would forcibly result in poor narratives about reality that privileged simple stories loaded with basic moral principles in order to control the minds of populations.

What starts to emerge is the idea that living for thousands of years in different physical contexts generated starkly contrasted worldviews and cultures. In China continuity provided time, over the long haul, to dig deep and to elaborate complex abstract systems of thought. In the TriContinent-Area rupture followed by short spans of stability constrained the narratives and obliged them to focus on ideas serving the reproduction of power.

B.   Chinese continuity to empire

What do we know?
  1. the legendary history, condensed in the history of Suma Chien and other old books, indicates that sage men of knowledge mastering pragmatism were the sovereigns for roughly 1000 years (3000 to 2000 BC). After the passing of one sage the symbolic role of the sovereign was transferred to another sage. The role was thus not inherited from the family but acquired. The tribal practice of the men of knowledge to retreat, for short periods, from their tribes  offers a readily available scenario to explain how the new sage kings or emperors were designated: the wisest among them automatically became the sovereigns and the wisest were the twin-souls who had reached universal consciousness. The legendary narrative refers to 5 wise emperors and 3 sages who assumed the function of sovereigns over all under heaven. The literature addresses three factors that were consecrating the national unification:  – known territory,  – people sharing a common belief,  – and a sovereign.
  2. after 1000 years of such a practice one sage, Yu the Great, transmitted his sovereignty to his son and so the Xia dynasty started the family line of power or the dynastic  transmission of power (starting approximately 2000 BC).

This period of history before the dynasty era is called legendary for a good reason. If there were any written traces from that period the fact is that they were not preserved. What we know comes mostly from “The Records of the Grand Historian” by Suma Chien (135 – 86 BC) and older texts which give a chronology and the names and places where the Sovereigns officiated during this mythical period. But since no archaeological traces have ever attested the veracity of the pronouncements of these texts that era has been considered as a legendary history. Archaeological studies started very late in China and only after the eighties were budgets being allocated to history departments in order to finance excavations. Since then we are witnessing a rapid succession of new finds that are starting to fill the gaps in our knowledge about the antiquity of China.

But what can we induce in term of the population increase from the information we gathered concerning the context in which the Chinese transition from tribes to empire takes place?
  1. territory: as we have seen here above the huge physical size of its alluvial plains allowed china to absorb an increasing population by expanding its existing tribal organization to an ever larger territory.
  2. belief: the men of knowledge (Wu or "spirit-intermediary ") continue to officiate locally at the tribal level. As mentioned here above the: “...retreats by the men of knowledge from their tribes consolidated such notion of the whole known territory (all under heaven). They were also seen as an opportunity to focus on knowledge which means that they were unifying the belief systems within the territory and simultaneously these retreats were an opportunity to participate in the rituals to venerate the knowledge of the sage men of knowledge”. This would not have been possible were it not for the particular context of the isolation of China from outside populated centers. Its isolation protected the traditional animist tradition from becoming a ground of competition between men of knowledge. We saw that in the TriContinent-Area the shaman were competing among themselves to catch the ear of the men of power and how that competition led to a differentiation in their narratives. Nothing of the sort was ever seen in China where the narrative was preserved except for the eventual add-ons by each generation of men of knowledge which led to an incremental build-up of more complexity in the knowledge system. This absence of competition between the men of knowledge during the period leading to empire has also to be understood as the core reason why animism never led to religion. 
  3. sovereign: an increasing population and an increasing territory lengthened the distances between the tribes located on one side of the territory’s periphery from the tribes on the other side of the periphery. So to keep the unity of “all under heaven” it appeared necessary to coalesce all tribes behind a symbol representing such a unity. The men of knowledge continued to act as the local knowledge purveyors of each tribe while their traditional retreats were opportunities to deliberate about matters relating to their co-existence and their unity. Since times immemorial the retreats had been an opportunity for all participating men of knowledge to venerate the eventual sages or “soul-flames” also called “the flames” among them. So when the necessity of a symbol of unity started to set in the minds of the men of knowledge it was wholly natural that they would turn to their sages and designate one among them to assume the symbol role of unity.

It’s all about the men of knowledge

The Chinese have been calling the trinity “Territory + Belief + sovereign” Tian Xia or “all under heaven ”. The term makes it in the literature starting with the oldest known Chinese texts dating from the Shang dynasty but, in reality, it must have been in use since far further down in history. The story of “all under heaven” has been unfolding in China, starting with tribal societies and then with the emergence of agriculture, its play-out in the Shang and Zhou dynasties is only the oldest documented form that is available today.

We saw in “ context.  B. Worldview and cultural context” that the retreats by the men of knowledge focused on:
  1. “practicing and refining their methods under the supervision of others
  2. refining their knowledge base and methods of intervention
  3. the celebration of eventual spirit-twins animating some of their colleague soul-twins or the soul-flames who reached universal consciousness”
In "Continuity versus rupture", here above, we saw that: “The sharing of a worldview in its common contextual forms, over the centuries and milena, gradually drew the attention of all to the differentiations that had been building up between their own territory and their neighboring territories”. This differentiation I assume must have acted as the initiation of an awareness of being a people, a union of tribes, sharing the use of a common territory.  In the present point “ the transition from tribes to empire” we saw that: “The retreats of the men of knowledge furthermore helped steer a path of co-existence between the tribes that over the many centuries gradually built a feel of belonging to a common nation”. In other words the awareness of being a union of tribes sharing the use of a common territory was further strengthened by exchanges between the tribes that were arranged by their men of knowledge while participating in their retreats.

The men of knowledge were steering a path of co-existence within the territory mainly by “steering” a territory wide societal response to 2 matters that in their minds  were questions of life and death for the tribe (1):
  • facilitating population growth within the territory by splitting over-populated tribes and by organizing the regrouping of their excess population with under-populated ones or by managing migrations out of the territory.
  • facilitating the migration of girls from their tribes of birth to their tribes of living, while not being understood as a genetic necessity, was nevertheless understood as a necessary condition to ensure healthy populations. Every decision and behavior was based on  the conclusions the men of knowledge drew from their long haul observation. They observed that kids from parents belonging to different groups were stronger and more healthy than kids from parents from the same group. So the conclusion they derived from their observation was that a healthy reproduction of the individuals, as a rule, necessitates an exchange of girls between the tribes. Such an exchange of girls between the tribes, not only ensured genetic variation, it also created blood bonds between the tribes that were shared and cherished by all women. This was one of the determinant factors explaining why women, who were in charge of rearing the kids and caring for the old, always chose to keep the peace between the tribes. And so we come to understand how the peaceful nature of tribal societies came about. Again we see that causal chain processes can lead to outcomes that were not consciously chosen. But this does not in any way diminish the exceptional peaceful character that women fostered on tribes.

I’m always amazed by the ingenuity of our ancestors. We always think that they did not have our analytical power but they nevertheless found the right answers to maximize the chances of survival and evolution of the species. They did not know about the necessity of genetic variation to ensure healthy individuals. But their system of organization centered on the men of knowledge was nevertheless suggesting them the right answers. This remembers me about the most important conclusion I had reached in chapter 1 about knowledge formation. “...knowledge is not about the absolute truth. Knowledge relates to the conventional aspects referred to by the context (society, environment, climate, etc…) and it is thus at best an approximation of reality that fits the particular context of a given time. In other words knowledge is produced internally from within the sub-system the men of knowledge live in. This means that the observation of the larger systems, containing the sub-system the men of knowledge live in, are seen through the contextual lens of that sub-system. Knowledge is thus not about understanding the truth about the whole but more like an approximation of what it is all about as detected from one of its internal sub-systems.

Taking into account these new functions that the men of knowledge assumed, regulating population size and ensuring genetic variation, we get a more elaborate view of the importance of their retreats. These were meetings where the guys who were in charge of knowledge very opportunistically arranging pragmatic solutions to satisfy the finality of the tribe which was to impact the production of well-being in the daily life of all; individually and societally. Producing well-being and sharing with one’s fellow tribesmen was the ideal of each individual. Tribal life was indeed communal with no expression of the ego whatsoever and so, while the men of knowledge wanted to share some goodies of life with their fellow tribesmen, the discussions between them focused on what they were feeling was necessary to maximize the cycle of life:
  1. knowledge: “refining their knowledge base”
  2. knowledge: “practicing and refining their methods of intervention  under the supervision of others”
  3. consciousness: “the eventual celebration, of spirit-twins animating some of their colleague soul-twins or, the soul-flames who had reached universal consciousness”
  4. co-existence + societal cohesion + communion + conservation: the men of knowledge were steering a path of co-existence within the known territory while solidifying the societal cohesion of their tribes by fostering the communion of their fellow tribesmen during spiritual feasts of initiation to their vision of reality or their worldview. All this concurred in the service of the conservation of the status-quo.
  5. reproduction + increased complexity + systemic reality + change: the men of knowledge were facilitating population growth within the territory by arranging for sustainable solutions like tribal splits, regrouping with underpopulated tribes, or emigration out of the territory.
  6. reproduction + systemic reality: the men of knowledge were facilitating the migration of girls from their tribes of birth to their tribe of life and reproduction.

Chain of causality towards a process of governance

I’m not suggesting here that the retreats of the men of knowledge were anything like the organized political governance of tribal affairs. What I want to suggest is that we are faced with a process that has been feeding upon itself completely out of the conscious control of its actors:
  1. the original separation, or the social distance, between the men of knowledge from their fellow tribesmen started a chain like process that has continually being feeding upon itself over the Milena. See “ context. B. Worldview and cultural context” where I wrote: “Observing the state of trance of their man of knowledge, during feasts or during sessions of health assistance to the sick, the tribesmen understood that his knowledge was acquired through sessions akin to mind torture.  …the whole tribal knowledge acquisition process was creating a separation between the men of knowledge from his fellow tribesmen. They needed him so they had much respect for him but they felt different and he felt also different from them. So the common man avoided to socialize with the man of knowledge outside of moments of need of his knowledge rendering service”.
  2. to socialize the men of knowledge retreated from their tribes. They found an answer to their marginalization by meeting and socializing, with their peers from other tribes within the known territory and in complete secrecy, in the depth of caves or forests.
  3. in counterpart for sharing their knowledge with their fellow tribesmen the men of knowledge were exempt of the work chores and were supplied with all the goods necessary to satisfy their needs.
  4. socializing with like-minded individuals the men of knowledge naturally shared their concerns with their peers during their retreats from their tribes. Helping and sharing their best knowledge with their fellow tribesmen was their livelihood so it is in the most natural of ways that they came to contemplate ways that would help their societies while helping themselves.
  5. we saw here above that during their retreats the men of knowledge touched matters relating to knowledge + increasing complexity and the 5 pillars of societal houses and the 5 necessities of individual life:  consciousness / systemic reality, societal cohesion / individual needs,  individual reproduction / tribal reproduction, coexistence / communion,   conservation / change.

As stated in "4.4. 25 interrelations between individuals & society": "Each of the 5 'individual necessities' interacts with each of the 5 'pillars of societal houses' generating a set of 25 feedback loops. These 25 feedback-loops are what gives its substance to the 'individual/society polarity-play'.

The retreats of the men of knowledge from their tribes started a process that has been feeding upon itself, totally out of their consciousness, and this process has gradually come to modulate the play between the Individual-societal polarities which is what creates the reality of the human species.

Tribes, Agricultures, villages

During that process the men of knowledge were confronted with various contextual changes that necessitated societal corrective answers. Among the most transformative contextual changes they encountered were  – the expanding size of the known territory,  – the eventual saturation of the territory,  – the growing population size of their tribes. Their answers to these contextual changes eventually fostered local settlements and tribes soon transformed into villages that lived from the proceeds of agriculture. Villages were taking a lot less space to feed a same quantity of people than did tribal wandering and the adoption of agriculture helped to grow the population after the territory was saturated. A bunch of studies lately showed for a fact that the settlement in villages must have come late in the process of saturation of the territory. Jared Diamond shook the anthropologists with his in his 1987 article in Discover Magazine “The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race” and his 1997 book “Guns, Germs, and Steel” reaffirmed his stance and also led other anthropologists to inquire if agriculture had really had such a negative impact on tribal life. Many studies confirmed the negative impact of agriculture which is thought to have been the reason why agriculture was only adopted late when the territory was already saturation by tribal splitting. Here is a short list of these negative impacts:
  • average life expectancy decrease from 26 to 19 years after adoption of agriculture.
  • agriculturalists spent a lot more time working than hunter gathers
  • people got shorter
  • farming fostered social hierarchies and inequality
  • women suffered degenerative skeletal diseases

In the meantime the veneration by the men of knowledge, of the sages or wisest among them, projected the latter into the minds of all as the symbols of the unity of all tribes and cities in an expanding known territory. The transition from tribes to empires

The symbolism for unity, that the men of knowledge projected in the minds of all within the known territory, related to the knowledge of the sages that was shared by all. It appears indeed that in China the process of unification of tribes and villages was the fact of the men of knowledge and not the fact of the men of power as had been the case in the TriContinent-Area.

Once more the rule of continuity was in application in China.

A.    What is an empire?

An empire is understood to be starting when, a set of signals indicate that, its institutions stabilized. Among the signals that apply more particularly in the TriContinent-Area and later in Europe I listed the following in “The axioms of civilization. 2. Imperial stabilization. 2.1. Signals of imperial stabilization”:
  1. dynastic rule
  2. a hegemonic worldview
  3. a territory and subjects
  4. the emperor is presented as the earthly representative of the gods or the spirits
  5. social inequality and class-based society
  6. public institutions and urban concentrations in cities
  7. use of writing
  8. specialized occupational groups
  9. diverted surpluses finance monumental works
  10. imposition of standards
One of the greatest difficulties when speaking about empire in China relates to the definition of the concept. The concept “empire” is indeed a European creation that corresponds to the institution that took shape in the particular context of the TriContinent-Area and also of Europe. What I mean by this is that the context of these regions was defined first and foremost by the dominance of the men of power during the whole historical era from the agricultural revolution to the establishment of empires.

In China that whole historical era was defined by the men of knowledge and, as we have seen, they have imprinted a radically different perspective on the working of the Chinese society than the men of power in West-Asia and Europe. So the concept empire is not really representative of the initial unification and sovereign unification of the country.

B.  In China the process of unification goes in 3 stages
  1. first stage of unification: See “ the tribal societal context under agriculture" here above. The context allows continuity in the form of an expansion of population and territory based on the tribal societal way.
  2. second stage of unification = early symbolism: This phase extended along the whole span between the start of agriculture and the emergence of the early signs of empire. The demographic and territorial expansion had surpassed the physical and mental capacity of walking men to form a vision in their mind of the known territory. When things get too big for our minds to grasp we are indeed at a loss to identify with them. After observing and identifying this problem humanity recoursed to abstractions and visuals to make sense of these things that were too big to get a grasp of. But, thanks to the neo-cortex, humans can identify with abstractions that represent these things we can not grasp. This is what happened with the known territory. It expanded so far away that it had become impossible to form an image of it in the mind and so tribesmen were losing the feel of its unity. Times were urging for abstractions to enforce this unity in the minds of all. Such an abstraction of unity unfolded out of the veneration by the men of knowledge of the sages or wisest among them. The abstractions projected the narrative about the knowledge of the sages into the minds of all. The narrative about their knowledge then became the symbol of the unity of all tribes and cities in an expanding known territory. That narrative expands on the worldview of animism. I develop this idea in “1.3.4. The civilization of China = animism+ ”.  What I mean by “expanding on the worldview of animism” is that continuity prevailed and animism remained the generally accepted worldwiew after agriculture emerged. For sure that worldview evolved over time and in China such an evolution consisted to add incremental changes or new observations on top of the body of animistic knowledge. This is how we get an “animism + add-ons” or an “animism+”.  During this phase symbolism was still searching for itself. In other words the narrative was not firmly established. It was in the forming and so the symbolism of unity was almost certainly attached to the spirits in the minds of the sages. In other words the sages were thought of as spirits who were helping people to gain some pragmatic knowledge to enhance their daily lives. Written language was in its stammering phase and was searching for itself. This period was characterized by the multiplication of visual signs on rock (petroglyphs) (2), on ceramics, on textiles (?). But the most salient trait of t his era is that meaning of the visual signs was still searching for the acceptance of all.
  3. third stage of unification = concepts, signs, and pragmatism: This phase extended along the whole span between  the emergence of the early signs of empire and their early reproduction over the generations which indicates the empire stabilizes.     If we follow the narrative of the legendary history the men of knowledge have been at the helm of a centralized structuring of the known territory for at least a thousand years. (4) The process of incremental change that I have laid out here above comes to the same kind of conclusion: the stabilization of the centralized structuring of the known territory was the fact of the men of knowledge and there was no reason for the sage sovereign to be designated in a dynastic fashion. During their retreats the men of knowledge of the known territory naturally designated the sagest among them as the sovereign. But this implies that the signals of imperial stabilization under the men of knowledge had to be different from the signals observed in the TriContinent-Area. Here are the signals that showed the men of knowledge had stabilized the paradigm shift of centralization:  1– ainimism+ as hegemonic worldview (concepts),  2– a territory and a people,  3– the sage is presented as the sovereign and earthly representative of the spirits (5),  4– use of writing. So only 4, of the 10 signals indicating a stabilization of empire in the TriContinent-Area, are seen in application in the Chinese unification under the men of knowledge.   The acceptance by all of a common meaning to different visual signs marks the existence of written language. Writing helped disseminate the abstractions representing the knowledge of the sages in concepts and visual signs that represent the unity expressed by the trilogy representing “all under heaven”:  the territory: all the people living on the known territory,  the worldview: the knowledge of the sage whose narrative is being shared with all,  the sovereign: the sage chosen to represent and guide the people.
These abstraction of the knowledge of the sages solidified into different forms: concepts and visual signs, written language.

C.    Concepts (3)

This list of concepts is an expansion of my presentation of the axioms of civilization given in “Book 1. 08. From Modernity to After-Modernity. The axioms of civilizations (3) ”.
  1. taiji“ or "supreme ultimate": this concept corresponds to “the whole” or to the “one” I often refer to in the context of set theory and in this sense it is also often called the "great primal beginning".  The Chinese view of the ultimate is that it contains the principles that are applicable throughout the whole of its substance. This they call “the Tao” which they understand as the animation of the substance of the universe by the yin-yang polarity-play or, as the “chi ”, the energy that is flowing throughout the universe to power life, etc…The taiji is also sometimes referred to as the “ultimate polarity” meaning the oneness out of which the yin-yang polarities originate. This ultimate polarity, that is represented by the universe, is given by the “wuji” or "the one without ultimate", or the “ultimate of beinglessness” or the "supreme ultimate", which is “nothingness”. The meaning that is conveyed by wuji refers to a bigger set that contains our whole universe. In that last sense wuji and taiji are viewed as the polarities of the universe: wuji is its principle or essence and taiji is its substance. Wuji is then the nothingness of “the Tao” that gives its substance to Taiji out of which emerge the “ten thousand things” that form “heaven and earth” which is the foundational concept of Chinese daily life pragmatism.
  2. yin-yang“: the polarities that animate all entities, that are present in the substance of the universe, through their polarity-play. In other words the Tao of the substance of the universe, among other, is yin-yang.  I have exposed earlier on how the yin-yang polarity-play acts as the mechanism that animates the universe. Philosophically yin-yang is a dualistic monism which holds that the universe is the ontological absolute reality which is being animated by the polarity-play of the yin-yang. I gave a more thorough presentation about the yin-yang polarity-play in “Book 1. 08. From Modernity to After-Modernity. The axioms of civilizations (3) ”.
  3. sancai” or the “three powers”: The 3 powers can refer to the super-sets that contain the human individual: heaven, earth, and humanity (species).  Each of the primary 3 powers, heaven, earth, and humanity, have their own 3 powers:  – the heavens have the sun, the moon and the stars,  – the earth has: Yi the stems, Bing and Ding,  – and humans have: Jing the vital essence, Qi the subtle breath, and Shen the spirit. These 3 powers can also refer to what gives its substance to the concept “Tian Xia” or “all under heaven”: the known territory (the world), a worldview (the belief shared by all in the knowledge of the sage) and a sovereign who symbolizes the unity of all under heaven or humanity.  In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) the 3 powers are also called the 3 elixir fields or fields: the palace of Nirvana at the center of the head, the Vermilion palace in the region of the heart and the Ocean of Qi in the abdominal region. In TCM these 3 powers are also referred to as the 3 internal treasures: Jing the vital essence, Qi the subtle breath, and Shen the spirit.  There are also the 3 external treasures Tao the way,  Jing the scriptures and Shi the teachers
  4. sixiang” or the four symbols:  There are four mythological creatures in the Chinese constellations: the azure dragon of the east (also symbolizing wood/spring), the vermilion bird of the south (fire/summer), the white tiger of the west (metal/autumn), and the black turtle of the north (water/winter). They represents a direction and a season and they have their own origins and individual character. These 4 symbols are derived from traditional Chinese astronomy that divides the heavens into constellations known as the "public officials". The constellations are divided into four groups: the “twenty-eight mansions” and the “three enclosures” of the northern sky (purple forbidden enclosure, supreme palace enclosure and heavenly market enclosure). 
  5. "Wu Xing" or the 5 elements: The four symbols form the base of the philosophic theory of the 5 elements. A fifth element was indeed added later to these 4: “the earth” that is represented by the yellow dragon of the center which completes the philosophic theory of the 5 elements. This theory is used in Fengshui, in Traditional Chinese Medicine and was the material from which the bagua was derived. 
  6. bagua”: The bagua has been derived from the sixiang which literally means the "eight symbols" or in English the “eight trigrams” that represent the 8 foundational concepts that ancient Chinese saw at work in reality. Each is a set of three lines: a "broken" line is  yin and a "unbroken" line is yang. See the animated bagua in note 3. The relationships between the trigrams come in two arrangements :                               --  the Primordial "Earlier Heaven" or "Fu Xi" bagua. Attributed to the legendary FuXi who governed between 2852–2737 BC (6).                                                                            -- the Manifested "Later Heaven" or "King Wen" bagua. King Wen lived between 1099–1050 BC (7).                                                                                                                        I further give the origins and the evolution that led to the bagua in note (3). 
  7. I-Ching“: The Yi-Ching is known as the “Classic of Changes” or “Book of Changes” in English. It is the oldest among the Chinese classic books and it was used in divination. We know that at least two other such systems of divination were in existence: the Lianshan and the Guizang. These are cited in the book “the Rites of Zhou” a work on bureaucracy and management. Forecasting the future (divination) had always been an important part of the activities of the tribal men of knowledge and the Yi-Ching was an expansion and systematization of that aspect of animist thought. That’s how the culture and worldview between tribes and empire was characterized by continuity.  In other words the concepts from which the trigrams were induced were present already thousands of years earlier.  Traditionally, the I-Ching is associated with the legendary ruler FuXi who is considered the creator of the bagua. The book the “Great Commentary” notes that Fu Xi observed the patterns of the world and from his observations induced the abstraction of the eight trigrams or the “bagua”.  Fuxi came first in the line of legendary rulers and is presented as launching patriarchy. The legend says that “Hua Hsu” gave birth to a twin brother and sister Fu Xi and Nü Wa (7). “On one of the columns of the Fu Xi Temple in Gansu Province the following couplet describes Fu Xi's importance:  ‘Among the three primogenitors of Huaxia civilization, Fu Xi in Huaiyang Country ranks first’. During the time of his predecessor NuWa (who, according to some sources, was also his wife and/or sister) society was matriarchal and primitive” (6). The FuXi and Nuwa story depicts a successful example of spiritual partnership between a man and a woman. Both are depicted as men of knowledge or shaman and each represent one historical ear matriarchy - patriarchy. What is invoked here is the symbolism of their spiritual partnership. Was this by any means a collaboration between animist twin-souls? We’ll never have a proof of this but all signs point to that possibility.

D.    Visual signs and written languages

The Chinese collection of visual signs, and their acceptance as a set of standards about shared meanings, has been a process that has spread over thousands of years. The men of knowledge did not know they needed a written language. It is more as if it was the written language that imposed itself in the minds as the result of an incremental build-up by generations after generations of men of knowledge who had used visual signs to share their visions with their fellow tribesmen. The abstractions in caves or in petroglyphs were indeed creations to share a common meaning in the minds of the men of knowledge. That common meaning could then be shared further with all in the tribes.

But going from tools to share meaning occasionally to a tool for storing and exchanging information systematically needed a quantum leap in increased consciousness that could only have developed in stages over long time spans.

As a rule written language is always the fact of men of knowledge. The concepts exposed here above were the foundation of the narrative of the men of knowledge in the late days of the transition from agriculture to empire or in the early days of empire.

The importance of these concepts in affirming and generating the new paradigm of imperial centralization can’t be overstated. It is being observed that written knowledge is one of the factors that are present at the start of any civilization.

Brute force, as I have noted earlier, is not sufficient to keep together a population that is spread over a vast territory. Therefore an empire can only start after the men of power ally with the men of knowledge whose narrative about what reality is all about can be shared by all citizens willingly or with the help of force.  The sharing of such a narrative, or worldview, glues the minds of the individuals fostering unity among them which unleashes a wave of solidarity between the citizens. These are the sources of communion in society that allow it to reproduce over time. But what I just exposed here was the model of imperial emergence in the TriContinet-Area. In China the men of knowledge were still the ones steering societal endeavors in the stage of societal evolution we are concerned with here; I mean late-transition / early-empire.

The men of knowledge were sharing their worldview with the citizens of their tribes. After the territory expanded the sage and his visions were slowly called upon to symbolize the unity of a territory that was starting to escape the minds’ handling capabilities. Sharing a worldview with all within the confines of a vast territory was a complex undertaking. The narrative about the sage’s vision was shared with all the men of knowledge within the entire known territory. They were the ones who then did the sharing with the citizens of all the tribes or cities.

But the territory had expanded to such a size that the communication between all men of knowledge was not any longer feasible orally. A written language had imposed itself as an absolute necessity to share the vision of the sage to all the men of knowledge.

But what I describe here unfolded over thousands of years and, as such, nobody really perceived the necessity of a written knowledge. It all happened like organically and all the bits and pieces of a written language were like falling in place automatically.

In “The axioms of civilization. 2. Imperial stabilization. 2.1. Signals of imperial stabilization” I cited the following that was written by Paola Demattè who is one of the leading world authorities in the field of early written languages: "Many, but by no means all, Western scholars hold that oracle-bone inscriptions are the earliest form of Chinese writing, and that the latter began with little incubation during the Shang period in the middle–lower Yellow River Valley area. In contrast, for many (but not all) Chinese scholars Early Bronze Age inscriptions and Neolithic signs are evidence of the gradual development of Chinese writing over an extended period of time and from a variety of earlier graphic systems. These diverging opinions and their subsets have generated a contentious debate on the origins of writing in China. ... Ultimately, the question is not whether the Dawenkou, Liangzhu, Shijiahe signs are ‘writing’ (this depend on the inclusiveness of the definition), but whether or not they constitute the beginning of a thread that led to Chinese writing. Since they appear to be closely linked to the mature writing of the Shang period, I believe they do." (8)

So written language emerged as a process that spanned over thousands of years. In China that process started very early on (5000-8000 BC?) and concluded with written texts sometimes around 3000 BC.

E.    Pragmatism = daily life apps

I  summarized what I have in mind when talking about daily use applications in “1.3.4. The civilization of China = animism+”: “One of the signals of imperial stabilization is the apparition of a written language. So writing a compendium of the best practices in his field of excellence must have been something that the shaman used to distinguish himself from his pears. This is exactly what the earliest texts are all about. They are texts about the best knowledge of the day as pertaining to a particular field relating to peoples' daily lives”. Many texts relating to such best practices have been related to the legendary era of centralization and imperial stabilization. The most important among them are the following:
  • the Huang-Di Nei-Jing is the Yellow Emperor’s Cannon of Internal Medicine. This book is still considered the canon of Traditional Chinese Medicine which the majority of Chinese people rely on to treat questions of health.
  • the Yi-Ching or book of changes is a forward-looking method which navigates the axioms of the Chinese civilization to predict future events relating to the questions of the person who consults it. The legend says that FuXi the first of the 3 Sovereigns derived the 8 trigrams from the yin-yang.
I described that traditional knowledge in the following terms in “1.3.4. The civilization of China = animism+. Animism+”: “The animistic knowledge was first and foremost pragmatic. It offered the citizens of the empire the practical means to handle daily life occurrences and as such it is a knowledge that formats the behavior of the Chinese in all fields. The preservation of health and the treatment of ailments is one of those fields and it illustrates the pragmatism of the Chinese worldview. To Western minds that knowledge will appear alien for the only reason of the rupture their civilization operated with its animist past.”

Pragmatism reflects an attitude that is totally focused on adapting to the context of the moment in order to derive a satisfactory outcome. Pragmatic knowledge is thus about knowing how to adapt one’s behavior in order to maximize the best outcome in the different fields of daily life: knowing how the future is going to unfold, knowing how to maximize one’s health, knowing how to hunt successfully, knowing how to reap a good harvest from growing cereals, etc…

The fact of the matter is that this traditional pragmatism is still fully at work in contemporary Chinese life. It is unfortunately an unknown quantity in the Western view of the world.


1. Dunbar number.

A theory attributed to Robin Dunbar. A sociologist and anthropologist who specialized in the study of “small groups”. Dunbar came to the “small group” idea while studying tribal societies. Original tribal societies having vanished, from the surface of the earth, he approached the study of small groups in contemporary settings. What he discovered was that small groups of Homo Sapients reach their optimum working capacity while being composed of 150 individuals on average. He further discovered that group size was linked to brain size and from this observation he derived “the social brain hypothesis” which relates brain size to group size. Applying the same rule to other species he calculated a theoretical average group number for their observed brain size. The calculated number was each time verified by the facts on the ground which proves the theory right.
Applying his number theory to tribes he came to the conclusion that tribes naturally, spontaneously, adapted a corrective response to any population move outside of the accepted limits of 120 to 180. This means that when the group reached a headcount of 180 it would have to split in 2. Some 120-130 individuals stayed in the existing group while 50 to 60 of them would have to leave:
  • or regrouping with a tribe whose headcount was approaching the lower limits of the acceptable
  • or starting a new tribe on their own with the help of their group of origin.
As we will see the retreats by the men off knowledge were the opportunity to organize population movements as well as the movements of women between tribes.

2. Petroglyphs:
Check the “China Rock Art Archive” by the Bradshaw Foundation.
In her Research Paper  “The Rock Art of Inner Mongolia & Ningxia (China)” Paola Demattè seems also attracted by by the same kind of the idea I express here above: “The narrative about their knowledge then became the symbol of the unity of all tribes and cities in an expanding known territory ”. In Demattè’s terms “...the scattering of marked rocks in key locations suggests that petroglyphs were markers of identity essential for a people who were engaged in a dialectic contention with the expanding agricultural world.”

3. concepts:

--  I Ching
In my personal experience the I-Ching or “book of changes” contains the conceptual substance of what I call traditional Chinese culture. As continuity has been the rule along the whole of Chinese history knowledge is seen as an incremental build-up of add-ons on top of the existing knowledge base which is being accepted as the result of the long haul observation by earlier men of knowledge and which is also observed to work in contemporary settings.
The best translation of the Yi-Ching from Chinese to a Western language was realized by Richard Wilhem. It was in German. Here follow some useful links to English translations of Richard Wilhem’s German version  by Cary F. Baynes:
- “The Yi-Ching Book of Changes”. German translation by Richard Wilhem rendered into English by Cary F. Baynes.
- “Introduction to the Yi-Ching”. German translation by Richard Wilhem rendered into English by Cary F. Baynes.
- “I Ching / Book of Changes”: Layout largely consistent with the printed 1967 Wilhelm/Baynes edition.
- “Yi Jing  – I Ching, the Book of Changes”: from the Wengu collection of Chinese books.  Translation from Chinese into German by Wilhelm, into English by Baynes.
See this Wikipedia presentation of Richard Wilhem
--  Animated Bagua: shows the different stages of the conceptual build-up

- Monad grap in wikipedia: “The circled dot was used by the Pythagoreans and later Greeks to represent the first metaphysical being, the Monad or The Absolute”.
“According to Hyppolytus, the worldview was inspired by the Pythagoreans, who called the first thing that came into existence the "monad", which begat (bore) the dyad(from the Greek word for two), which begat the numbers, which begat the point, begetting lines or finiteness, etc.” in Monad (philosophy)
- Yin-yang, from a philosophically standpoint, is a dualistic monism which holds that the universe is the ontological absolute reality and that this absolute reality is being animated by the polarity-play of the yin-yang.
- animated bagua: from wikimedia and realized by Distorted, based on the work of Idot.
The whole conceptual montage of Chinese traditional philosophy starts with the taiji which is one then adds the yin-yang polarity play of two and then adds the 3 powers then the 4 symbols  of the sixiang and then adds the 8 trigrams of the bagua.  The I Ching is based on the same conceptual montage and adds one last layer that is given by the interactions between each of the 8 trigrams with the other seven to give 64 hexagrams (6 lines graphs).

--  Origin of Bagua
There are two possible sources of bagua. The first is from traditional Yin and Yang philosophy. This is explained by Fuxi in the following way:
The Limitless (wuji) produces the delimited (youji), and this demarcation is equivalent to the Absolute (taiji).
The Taiji produces two forms, named yin and yang(yinyang);
These two forms produce four phenomena: named lesser yin (shaoyin), greater yin (taiyin, which also refers to the Moon), lesser yang (shaoyang), and greater yang (taiyang, which also refers to the Sun).
The four phenomena (sìxiàng) act on the eight trigrams (bagua) which results in sixty-four hexagrams of the I Ching.
Another possible source of bagua is the following, attributed to King Wen of Zhou Dynasty:
When the world began, there was heaven and earth. Heaven mated with the earth and gave birth to everything in the world. Heaven is Qian-gua, and the Earth is Kun-gua. The remaining six gua are their sons and daughters

4. About the legendary history.
What is called the legendary history is the narrative about Chinese history that is given in China’s ancient classic books. Among the most important figure the following:
The Records of the Grand Historian
Yi Ching or Book of Changes
Shiben or Book of Origins
The Book of Documents (Shujing or Classic of History)”
Classic of Poetry
Book of rites
Spring and Autumn annals
These books have this in common that they reference a part of history that has not been proven to have existed in reality by archaeological finds. This is why that part of history has been labeled “legendary history.
But it is warranted to be wary of this labeling?
Before the 20th century, the Zhou Dynasty (1046–256 BC) was the earliest Chinese dynasty whose records in the books had been verified by actual archaeological finds.
In 1928 a site (now called Yinxu) near Anyang, north of the Yellow River in modern Henan province, was excavated by Academia Sinica. More than 20,000 oracle bones were discovered which bore inscriptions of the same nature as those on bronze ritual vessels discovered in the Song dynasty. These bronze vessels’ origin was the Shang dynasty. The bone inscriptions provide insight into the politics, economy, religious practices, the art and medicine of the Shang dynasty. And so the Shang Dynasty was taken off the list of dynasties belonging to the legendary history...
To this day the Shang dynasty is the oldest era of Chinese history that has been verified by archaeological evidence.
What this shows us is that the narrative of the classics was right after all about the history of the Shang dynasty. This is why I think that we should give more credence to the narrative of the classics about the eras that came before the Shang.

5. The narrative of the legendary history varies depending on the source you consult: see “Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors. Variations”.
More generally I think that what is called the legendary history is no more than the understanding, in the Late Warring States period, of the past 3000 years that had been transmitted to them through copies of copies of copies of copies… of older texts. Such a mode of transmission inevitably concluded in an impressionist vision that should be correlated with archaeological discoveries of China’s early cultures. What I mean by that is that archaeological excavations indicate the existence of different cultures but their chronology remains imprecise. An article published in the “Sino-Platonic Papers, 254” in January 2015 gives us a more precise chronology. That article “Majiayao Legacy” by  Michael Turk is  based on the work of David Pankenier who used computer astronomy programs to map the stars visible during specific events mentioned in early texts, thus establishing a secure chronology for the Xia, Shang, and Zhou dynasties. Here follows his “Chronology of Northwest Chinese Neolithic Cultures”:
- Yangshao culture 4800–3000 B C
- Banpo phase 4800–4200 B C
- Miaodigou phase 4000–3000 B C
- Majiayao culture 3100–2000 B C
–- Majiayao phase 3100–2700 B C
–- Banshan phase 2700–2400 B C
–- Machang phase 2400–2000 B C
- Qijia culture 2400–1900 B C
- Erlitou culture 1953–1576 B C (Xia dynasty)

6. FuXi:
“Pangu was said to be the creation god in Chinese mythology. He was a giant sleeping in an egg of chaos. As he awoke, he stood up and divided the sky and the earth. Pangu then died after standing up, and his body turned into rivers, mountains, plants, animals, and everything else in the world, among which is a powerful being known as Hua Hsu.
Hua Hsu gave birth to a twin brother and sister, Fu Xi and Nü Wa. ...
Fu Xi was known as the "original human" and he was also said to be was born on the lower-middle reaches of the Yellow River...
In reality, many Chinese people believe that Hua Hsu was a leader during the matriarchal society (ca. 2,600 BCE) as early Chinese developed language skill while Fu Xi and Nü Wa were leaders in the early patriarchal society (ca. 2,600 BCE) while Chinese began the marriage rituals.”
in Fuxi Wikipedia.
Table from List of rulers of China: Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors

7. NuWa:  In the list of sovereigns given in note 4 NuWa is said to have reigned over a span of 180,000 years. We can thus safely deduce that NuWa was not one person but the name given to matriarchy.
The legend gives her also as the twin sister and wife of FuXi who is considered, among other feats, to have instituted patriarchy and devised the mechanism that allowed the empire to reproduce over the generations. In this case Nuwa could have been a female twin-soul shaman collaborating with her counterpart twin-soul male shaman to reach universal consciousness.

8. Paola Demattè. “The Origins of Chinese Writing: the Neolithic Evidence“ Cambridge Archaeological Journal. 2010.

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