National Geographic : 2004 Feb
altar. Many were poor folk who bore simple of ferings-two or three peaches or apples. A gong's throaty resonance lingered among the junipers. A monk named Zhang, who walked with me, said two monks brought the faith to Luoyang around A.D. 67, having entered China via the Silk Road. "They brought statues and scriptures on a white horse," Zhang said. Thus the temple's name today: White Horse. From this and other founts Buddhism expanded across China, joining Con fucianism and Daoism-the three teachings, as Chinese call them-as a profound influence upon future dynasties and China's masses. oward the end of the first century A.D. the house of Liu stumbled into a long streak of bad luck in which one em peror after another died young, with out a chosen heir, or without sons at all. The new emperor might be a child (perhaps a cousin of the deceased ruler) or even an infant. Real pow er usually resided in a regent from the family of an empress (even child rulers were provided with empresses). Court scheming intensified. Yin, yang. While the aristocrats jockeyed, a remarkable device was installed in the Bureau of Astronomy and Calendar. Six feet wide, it looked like a bronze jar. Eight dragon heads were placed around its upper part. Beneath each was a bronze toad. If the jar felt an earthquake's tremor, even a faint one, a ball dropped from a dragon into a toad's mouth. The genius of this, the ancestor of all seismographs, was that the ball dropped in the direction from which the tremor came, thanks to a mechanism inside the jar. Some engineers believe it was a pendu lum suspended from a sling with eight levers attached to the eight dragon mouths. If a tremor came, say, from the south, it caused the lower part of the pendulum to swing north. Therefore, the upper part tipped south, engaging the lever attached to the southern dragon. Its mouth opened, the ball dropped. Thus Zhang Heng, who invented his "earthquake weathercock" in A.D. 132, could inform the court if a distant earthquake occurred, and indicate the direction of the stricken area. Zhang's device surely registered several trem ors that, along with other calamities, such as floods and locust swarms, led prognosticators to conclude that heaven was angry and the end of the dynasty was approaching. 28 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC * FEBRUARY 2004 TWO GIANTS who changed the course of China, Confucius and Mao Zedong, share space at a street stall in Qufu, near Mount Tai. While Mao preached revolution, the Han rulers sought order and stability, promoting Confucian principles that still resonate in today's China. Indeed, everything was spinning out of con trol. Thousands from Luoyang's Confucian academy protested corruption-China's first student demonstrations. At court, eunuchs, once merely servants and harem guards, became a potent force in the often bloody scheming, enriching themselves as they supplanted purged officials. Massive peasant uprisings roiled the provinces "like a billowing sea," as one historian wrote, even threatening the capital in A.D. 184. Six years later a general named Dong Zhuo seized power and placed a child, Liu Xie, on the throne. Last of the 27 Lius to be called emperor, the puppet was powerless to rescue the empire of his forefathers. Dong murdered the eunuchs and burned Luoyang to the ground. Warlords battled each other. Liu Xie finally abdicated in 220, and China broke into warring states, not to be unified again for three and a half centuries. Seen close-up the Han nobility looks less than noble. But at that range other dynasties look no better. The Han's supreme goal was maintaining itself, and despite bouts of turmoil, it succeeded so well that centuries later, when China was scourged by civil war and nomad raiders were plundering northern towns, people looked back longingly to Han unity and peace. And it really never died, this dynasty, trans mitting cultural precepts and beliefs still valid. "The West inherits its traditions from the Romans and Greeks," summarizes Liu Qingzhu, director of the Institute of Archaeology in Beijing, "while China inherits from the Han." Later dynasties would be more renowned, praised for artistic perfection and sophisticated governance. But the Han gave them a founda tion-an impressive achievement for a regime sired by a coarse upstart who liked to befoul scholars' hats. l WEBSITE EXCLUSIVE Winds as strong as tornadoes, the hazards of rice wine, the challenges of photographing a farmer's market-get the author's and photographer's tales from the field at nationalgeographic.com/magazine/0402.