To study ancient Chinese society, we must pay attention to superstructure and economic foundation. The economic foundation determines the superstructure, which affects the economic foundation. The influence of superstructure on economic foundation is various, the establishment and operation of system is the key, and the study of system history is a key to understanding ancient China.
In social life, everything from state administration to people’s daily life is related to the system. People of insight in ancient China had a very profound understanding of the universality and importance of the system. Confucian scholars in the Warring States Period said that there must be a “way to rule the country”. The so-called “rules” refer to the rules and regulations. Zhu Xi, a thinker in the Song Dynasty, said: “For example, etiquette, music, punishment and government, literature is a system, and there are all kinds of contacts.” Wang Fuzhi, a thinker during the Ming and Qing Dynasties, quoted people at that time as saying: “The world is large and the people are large. There must be rules and systems so that each can keep its own points.”
Although the words “system” and “degree” can be seen in ancient documents, oracle bone inscriptions and bronze inscriptions, it is relatively late to combine them to form the concept of “system”, probably in the Warring States Period, Qin and Han Dynasties. Some documents believe that the Yellow Emperor established the system, while others believe that Xia Yu, Shang Tang, Zhou Wenwang and Zhou Wuwang are all formulating the system.
The establishment of the system is often the result of repeated judgments and weighs by politicians and thinkers of that era according to the practice of the people and the reality of social development. For example, the Zhou Dynasty is famous for its ritual and music civilization, and its ritual and music system is mainly preserved in the “Three Rites”. “Zhou Li” talks about the official system and political system of the dynasty. “Yi Li” describes the etiquette systems of crown, marriage, funeral, sacrifice, township, shooting, court and employment. “Li Ji” explains the spirit and significance of various etiquette systems. Zhou Gong, as an outstanding politician and thinker, determined the program and principles of various ritual and music systems in Zhou Dynasty and expounded the cultural spirit of etiquette. Later generations attributed the “Zhou Li” and “Yi Li” written by him to his name, which is not without reason.
The system is formed through long-term social practice. Some systems can operate for hundreds of years without major changes. The main reason is that their top-level design meets the needs of social development. For example, the imperial examination system, which originated and developed in Sui and Tang Dynasties, adapted to the needs of the society in selecting talents and was a relatively fair way to select talents in ancient China. Compared with the previous examination system and the nine-grade system, the imperial examination system has shown certain fairness to people from all walks of life, so although it has many disadvantages, it has been in operation for thousands of years.
There are also some important systems that must be continuously adjusted according to the actual situation of social development. The so-called “different events in the world and different governance cannot be ignored.” The profit and loss of the husband system, this ancient and modern do not have to be the same “, is exactly the truth. In ancient Chinese society, the most frequent change was the tax system. The tax system is closely related to the economic income of the state, the local government and the people, as well as the land system and population situation. Therefore, a scientific and reasonable tax system is an important part of the country’s major policies. From the gongna system in the Xia and Shang Dynasties to the “sharing of money into mu” in the Qing Dynasty, the tax system has undergone numerous changes, large and small, in past dynasties.
System is the crystallization of development practice and development concept in economic, political, cultural and other fields. Understanding the social development situation in a certain historical period and its system can be said to be the best way. For example, the Zhou Dynasty society took patriarchal clan system and enfeoffment system as the two supporting cornerstones. If we have a deep understanding of these two systems, many problems about Zhou Dynasty society will be solved. Another example is that the Spring and Autumn Period and the Warring States Period were periods of fundamental changes in the social form of ancient China. To understand the situation and significance of this change, one must first understand the system changes in this period. During this period, many vassal states were carrying out “political reforms”, which were actually institutional reforms to meet the needs of social development. Take the famous Shang Yang’s political reform as an example, its core content is to replace the traditional well-field system with the national land grant system and the traditional world-class system with the military merit system. If there is no understanding of these fundamental system changes, it is unlikely to understand the great social changes at that time.
Wang Guowei believed: “If you want to see Zhou and decide the world, you must start with its system.” This is a very incisive point of view. The study of ancient Chinese society may as well “start from its system”. This kind of research will definitely achieve great results.