An An­cient City Plays out Its By­gone Leg­end

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated by Zhang Guoyao Edited by Justin Davis

The mil­i­tary reform known as “shoot­ing while on horse­back in Hu dress” and launched by King Wul­ing of Zhao, made Zhao a pow­er­ful state and gave fame to Han­dan, Zhao’s cap­i­tal.

Ac­cord­ing to his­tor­i­cal records, the city of Han­dan be­gan to thrive in the Spring and Au­tumn Pe­riod (770–476 BC). As a pros­per­ous city of the state of Jin in the re­gion on the north­ern bank of the Yel­low River, Han­dan be­came the place where var­i­ous po­lit­i­cal forces in the north fiercely com­peted against each other. In 386 BC, Mar­quess Jing of Zhao moved the cap­i­tal of Zhao to Han­dan. Han­dan was in its hey­day for more than 150 years as Zhao at­tained more power. Dur­ing this pe­riod, it was not only the po­lit­i­cal, mil­i­tary and eco­nom­i­cal cen­tre of the state but also the most im­por­tant com­mer­cial me­trop­o­lis in what is now the Bei­jing-tian­jin-he­bei area. How­ever, in 208 BC, Zhao ended up in col­laps­ing and Han­dan dis­ap­peared into obliv­ion.

More than 2,000 years later, ar­chae­o­log­i­cal work was con­ducted on the site of this an­cient city. To­day, in the south­west­ern part of Han­dan, He­bei prov­ince sits on the ru­ins of the by­gone cap­i­tal of Zhao. Even to­day, there are still some wind­ing and un­du­lat­ing city walls as high as sev­eral me­ters around some of the ru­ins. The relics and foun­da­tions of old build­ings are in­side. Rem­nants of many city gates still ex­ist around the an­cient city also.

King Wul­ing of Zhao’s Mil­i­tary Reform

To peo­ple to­day, “shoot­ing while on horse­back in Hu dress,” which means “learn­ing from oth­ers’ mer­its,” is just an ex­pres­sion. How­ever, dur­ing the War­ring States Pe­riod (475–221 BC) more than 2,000 years ago, the ut­ter­ance of this phrase made the no­bles in al­most all of the vas­sal states hor­ri­fied with the ex­cep­tion of King Wul­ing of Zhao (reign: 325–299 BC), its in­ven­tor. The Zhao mil­i­tary be­gan to wear Hu (styled) at­tire and shoot from horse­back in bat­tle and seemed to be­come un­par­al­leled overnight. As a re­sult, the vas­sal states that fought against Zhao didn’t fare so well. The calamity that would be­fall the state of Zhong­shan un­der the be­siege­ment im­posed by King Wul­ing of Zhao was like an alarm bell ring­ing in­ces­santly in their ears.

Dur­ing the Spring and Au­tumn Pe­riod, King Wul­ing of Zhao (reign: 325–299 BC) was look­ing for a strategy to help Zhao sur­vive. He fi­nally de­cided to reform his mil­i­tary and the way his troops fought.

In the Cen­tral Plains, the mil­i­tary was com­posed of in­fantry dressed in heavy suits of ar­mour and bulky, cum­ber­some char­i­ots. They looked grand but were less ef­fec­tive in bat­tle. In con­trast, a no­madic cav­alry was more flex­i­ble and­was es­pe­cially suit­able for long-dis­tance op­er­a­tions in com­pli­cated ter­rain. King Wul­ing of Zhao was de­ter­mined to carry out a reform so as to es­tab­lish a pow­er­ful cav­alry and in­crease the mil­i­tary strength of the state of Zhao. The reform be­came known as “shoot­ing while on horse­back in Hu dress.” Af­ter the reform, Zhao reached its hey­day, be­com­ing a pow­er­ful state in the east which could con­tend with the state of Qin. In 296 BC, Zhao’s

troops com­pletely an­ni­hi­lated the state of Zhong­shan and ex­tended its ter­ri­tory from the north to the south.

A Fash­ion­able Me­trop­o­lis

With the sta­bil­i­sa­tion of the state, King Wul­ing of Zhao and the sub­se­quent kings be­gan to spend more time build­ing Han­dan as the cap­i­tal city. Af­ter ex­ten­sive con­struc­tion, Han­dan quickly be­came the largest po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic, mil­i­tary and cul­tural cen­tre in the vast area on the north­ern bank of the Yel­low River. In the ini­tial ar­chae­o­log­i­cal ex­ca­va­tion, peo­ple be­lieved that the ru­ins of Zhaowang City in the south­west­ern part of present-day Han­dan was the en­tirety of the cap­i­tal city of Zhao, and Han­dan as the cap­i­tal of Zhao was re­garded as a city with­out an outer city. How­ever, the con­clu­sion wasn’t con­sis­tent with records. It wasn’t un­til later that cul­tural relics dis­cov­ered be­neath the present-day city proper of Han­dan cor­rob­o­rated what was de­scribed in the doc­u­ments. The larger city cor­re­spond­ing with Zhaowang City is known as Dabei City, whose hey­day ranged from the War­ring States Pe­riod to the Han Dy­nasty (206 BC–AD 220). It cov­ered the greater part of to­day’s ur­ban area of Han­dan.

Com­posed of Zhaowang City ( the im­pe­rial city) and Dabei City ( the city of res­i­dents, outer city), Han­dan, as the cap­i­tal of Zhao, fi­nally proved to be a city with an area of about 18.88 mil­lion square me­tres. Apart from the grand city build­ings, ar­chae­o­log­i­cal ex­ca­va­tions in­di­cate that more than ten an­cient city sites in­clud­ing Yang City of Yong­nian County, Jie City of Fengfeng and Jiangwu City of Cix­ian County have been dis­cov­ered around the an­cient city of Han­dan, form­ing some­thing of a mega­lopo­lis- like clus­ter of cities around Han­dan.

Thanks to the might­i­ness of the state of Zhao, Han­dan be­came a “cen­tral city” and “su­per-first-tier city” lead­ing the trend in China dur­ing the War­ring States Pe­riod. Ac­cord­ing to Yantie lun (“dis­courses on salt and iron”) in the Han Dy­nasty, “be­cause of their pros­per­ity, cities such as Zhuo and Ji in Yan, Han­dan in Zhao, Wen and Zhi in Wei, Xingyang in Han, Linzi in Qi, Wan and Chen in Chu and Yangdi in Zheng all be­came well­known cities.” Among these fa­mous cities, Ji, Han­dan and Linzi could be called the “cities of cities.” Be­cause of its role as a trans­porta­tion hub from south to north, Han­dan be­came known as a “fash­ion­able city” and gained con­sid­er­able fame among its con­tem­po­raries. The wide­ly­known idea of “at­tempt­ing to walk like res­i­dents in Han­dan” (im­i­tat­ing oth­ers and thus los­ing one’s own in­di­vid­u­al­ity) could also be con­sid­ered praise given to Han­dan by the peo­ple who yearned for the way of life in the big city.

Fleet­ing Glory Days

More than 2,000 years later, to­day one can only find the glo­ri­ous past of the city peo­ple scram­bled to come to in an­cient books.

In his “Zhaodu fu” (“ode to the cap­i­tal of Zhao”), Liu Shao, a thinker in the late Han Dy­nasty, de­scribed a spec­tac­u­lar por­trayal of Han­dan as the cap­i­tal of Zhao with his or­nate writ­ing. By trans­lat­ing clas­si­cal Chi­nese into ver­nac­u­lar Chi­nese, peo­ple to­day can still feel the grandiose momentum of the cap­i­tal city. “There are roads lead­ing in all directions and the city walls of the cap­i­tal ex­tend more than 50 kilo­me­tres. There are un­du­lat­ing, con­nected build­ings whose col­umns are dec­o­rated with colour­ful paint­ings. There are sculp­tures of pea­cocks and beasts on ledges, which look like phoenixes spread­ing their wings, about to soar into the sky. Pil­lars of the main halls, as red as fire, look like they lead to the sun. Or­na­men­tal dragon- shaped carv­ings and paint­ings wind their way along on bridges. These are all part of the cap­i­tal city sit­u­ated in the south­ern ter­ri­tory of the state of Zhao. A build­ing clus­ter rep­re­sent­ing the state of Zhao known as Cong­tai stands in the east­ern part of the state.”

Zhaowang City was a place full of his­tory. It is here that Mao Sui, who is well re­garded, vol­un­teered his ser­vices on the strength of his glib tongue. The ve­he­ment de­bate re­gard­ing the idea that “A White Horse is Not a Horse (sophistry)” be­tween Con­fu­cian Kong Chuan and Gong­sun Long, de­vel­oper of logic, took place here. Var­i­ous schol­ars such as Xun Kuang, Yu Qing, Li Mu and Zhao She wrote books, the­o­ries and de­vel­oped their schools of thought, suc­ceed­ing in spread­ing the in­flu­ence of the state of Zhao through­out China.

Hav­ing ex­pe­ri­enced over 2,000 years and been eu­lo­gised by men of let­ters through the ages, the ru­ins of the an­cient city have be­come pre­cious for the study of politics, econ­omy and cul­ture of the state of Zhao, as well as ur­ban ar­chi­tec­ture and lay­out of im­pe­rial palaces dur­ing the War­ring States Pe­riod. Stand­ing on the city wall of Zhaowang City, strolling in the Gar­den of Zhao, stand­ing be­side Xuebu Bridge and snaking along Huiche Lane, you can al­most hear the foot­steps tread­ing on this land, as if open­ing dust­laden doors.

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