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Xiao Tai Hou Qin Tile End 孝太后寝瓦当

Xiao Tai Hou Qin Tile End
Pottery Designs from the Western Han Dynasty 西汉 206 BC - 8 AD

This tile end dates to the Western Han dynasty. Xiao Taihou qin 孝太后寝. means to express filial piety to the empress dowager. Xiao or filial piety is the central concept of Chinese governance. It was a principle proposed by Confucius based on the idealized feudal era of the early Zhou hierarchy. Confucius wrote during the Spring and Autumn period, but was simply one of many philosophies that spread during the Warring States period. When the first dynasty was formed, the Qin dynasty, the Qin emperor ordered that most books be burnt and gathered scholars and put them to death. The Qin emperor wanted an entire new approach to government and a total cut from the past. The next time that was tried they called it the Cultural Revolution.

After about 21 years the Qin dynasty fell to the Han dynasty. It was under the Han dynasty that Confucianism was elevated to a standard cultural principle and gained religious status. The Emperor Wu Ti of the Han dynasty took the advice of his minister, Hung Kung-sun, and adopted the principles and established temples to Confucius to declare their perfection in the eyes of heaven. The principle of filial piety was a very handy device for a ruler. Basically each generation owed obedience to the previous generation, younger brother to older brother, and everyone to the emperor. Theoretically, this unquestioned obedience and service to authority is returned by benevolence. The protection offered by the more powerful to the less powerful balances the scales of justice and ethics. The unquestioned obedience is emphasized and allows emperors to do pretty much what they like. If they go too far, and it is clear that the welfare of the people has not been protected because there is economic, geological, or political disaster, the people have the right to overthrow the government and find a new emperor. The emperor loses the "mandate of heaven." If this happens, the new emperor assumes the mantle of "son of heaven" and by the right of having come out on top, establishes a new dynasty.

Throughout history corruption eroded the ruling class. The unquestioned obedience meant there were no checks and balances on the behavior of the ruling classes. Dynasties would begin with revolution and a promise of better government but over the generations they learned to abuse power and to abuse those under them. The wealth of the nation was diverted to personal wealth and pleasure, enormous houses, gambling, and entertainment and little was left to ensure the economic or social well-being of the people. Taxes increased and increased to feed the avarace of corruption while the State coffers became depleted. Today, the government fears the history of China and its own traditions. As protests abound about the big land grab, the distance between rich and poor grows, and the newly rich feel that it is their right to pollute and destroy the environment on their was to quick industrialization, the wise among the leadership call for a halt to the construction of elaborate public offices, statues, gold-embossed ceilings, and month-long vacations in Macao.

China Index >> Historical Beijing in Pictures >> Neolithic and Early Dynasty Pottery and Roof Tiles

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Last update: September 2013
© Marilyn Shea, 2013