Bloody shovel

Don't call it a spade

Tales from the patriarchy

The way of properly learning a language is to do what languages are made for: use it. Ideally, live your usual life, do whatever it is you like doing, and just try to find a way to insert that language you’re learning into your daily routine. So if, say, you like movies, and you’re learning Persian, well, stop watching Hollywood crap and go pick up some Persian movies.

I get asked about books on Chinese history, and I tend not to know what to say. I haven’t read a lot of Chinese history books in English. Certainly not any general ones. I read China in World History by Adshead after Steve Sailer recommended it. It’s a fascinating book, not very accurate, but a fun read for beginners, so I do recommend it too. Generally speaking most English books on China are pretty bad, and badly written. With the exception of Frederick Wakeman’s, which are awesome.

What I often do to read up on Chinese history is watch a historical TV show, then stop anytime something bugs me and go check out the primary sources out there in Wikisource. If the thing is interesting I check out 知乎, China’s much improved version of Quora, where they have detailed explanations and book recommendations. If the topic is interesting enough I get the (Chinese-language) book.

There’s a recent TV show in China about 司馬懿 Sima Yi, one of the most important leaders of the Three Kingdoms period. The whole period, which lasted about 100 years, 180 to 280 AD, is the most written about in the history of China, mostly because of the sheer force of personality of the men of the time. Dozens upon dozens of great warriors and statesmen. Sima Yi wasn’t the most colorful of them, but arguably he was the guy who won the game. He was a quiet minister of the northern kingdom, Cao Wei, where he served and outlived three emperors. The guy was so good at anything he did, so influential that part of the imperial family decided to get rid of him, lest he took power for himself and made a puppet of the imperial court. He let the court take away all his power for 10 years. Then out of the blue he run a coup d’etat, where… he took power for himself and made a puppet of the imperial court. At 72 year old he executed thousands upon thousands of imperial kinsmen. Then he died. His soon took over, then died. Then his grandson decided to do away with the charade and took the throne for himself. He then started the 晉 Jin Dynasty.


So anyway, the show is pretty good. But it’s of course adapted to modern sensitivities. But not so much, I was very surprised to see a scene where he kills the whole family of his main rival in the coup, 曹爽 Cao Shuang. The usual penalty for treason in China was 夷三族, “leveling of the three families”. There are conflicting records on which three families this referred to, but basically it meant killing the whole extended family, clients included. So all wives, brothers, children, parents, uncles and aunts. All beheaded, if possible together. The scene in the series shows Cao Shuang’s 3 year old son, tied up in white clothes, in front of the beheading platform. They don’t show his head being cut off, of course, but the mere sight of a 3 year old boy in front of a beheading platform would get most housewives in the West calling for their smelling salts and yelling at social media.

Anyway, kudos for China for their accuracy in that front. Shame on China for their lack of accuracy in what remains, in my view, the still biggest and most encroached area of progressive influence in modern China. Women. I write a lot about how Islam is a better deal for Men than Western culture, which is why Muslim immigrants refuse to integrate, and in fact radicalize further in their faith after moving to the West. But if Islam is a good deal, old Chinese culture was the freaking lottery. Polygamy among the gentry in China was not only legal: it was expected. And there was no limit to the number of wives you could acquire. Girls were sold as property at 13-15 years old, and no self-respecting men would not get a new wife every 5-10 years if he could afford to.

Of course having too many wives was frowned upon. It was a sign of lack of seriousness. Women are something men like, but men should like other things more, manly things. Warfare and government. Reading and the arts. Women were entertainment, who also happened to produce children, which are always nice to have, as they make heirs, and daughters which you can give to you friends’ sons.

It is unconceivable that a man of the stature of Sima Yi would not have a handful of wives. And indeed he had, four of them in total. His first wife, Lady 張 Zhang, is said to have had a temper. That means that… she had a temper. In the TV show though, tailored to modern sensitivities, for commercial reasons if only, as most TV show viewers are women, Lady Zhang is a kung-fu master who accompanies her mild-mannered husband at war, does ninja work to help him in his conspiracies, and basically runs the household with an iron clit. Amazingly (progress!) the show has Sima Yi welcome a second wife. The show makes it look like the emperor forces upon him a second wife, Lady 柏 Bai to spy on him, and that makes his first wife, Lady Zhang, to flare up in outraged fury. How dare you get a second wife! A good 5 episodes are dedicated to this story. But she eventually accepts the fact and they get along together, the second wife being super smart or something.

Which I guess it’s great fun for modern housewives, who like soap operas of women fighting for status. But as a historical show, the whole premise is ridiculous in the extreme. First of all, Lady Bai was his fourth wife. That’s 4 women. Second, Lady Zhang was just some boring housewife with a temper, no super ninja. Third, while Chinese wives were indeed never happy about their husbands getting another wife, there was nothing they could do about it. Ancient China didn’t recognize divorce, but wives nagging about concubines was one of the few cases where it was granted. Lady Zhang, first wife, may indeed have given shit to Sima Yi about it, but only so much of it, and the idea that Sima Yi would be apologetic about it, that he would feel sorry about getting a younger and hotter wife, is just preposterous.

Don’t take my word about it though, the official history of the Jin Dynasty says it for me. The historian in charge was funny enough to add this piece of domestic life of Sima Yi.


Sima Yi spent more time with Lady Bai; Lady Zhang hardly ever saw him anymore. One day, Sima Yi was sick, lying in bad, and Lady Zhang went to see him. Sima Yi saw her and said: “You annoying old thing, why did you bother coming out?”. Lady Zhang was so angry and embarrassed that she stopped eating, and was going to kill herself. All her children [note: the elder, most legitimate heirs of him] stopped eating too. Sima Yi was startled and went to apologize, so she stopped (started to eat again). Sima Yi then left and told his men: “the old thing doesn’t deserve pity, what bothered me was my poor good boys!”.


This anecdote is not only funny today; it was funny even then, as it takes 3 lines of the 8 total lines that Lady Zhang, posthumous empress, got in the official history. I love how he called her, 老物, “old thing”. Plenty to comment here: wives being annoying in any time and any social stratum, wives using their children as weapons in order to get what they want. Human nature.

Sima Yi was a huge prick, unlike the mild gentle man he is in this TV show. In previous renditions he’s written more accurately. But hey, he founded a dynasty, he was the towering general and statesman of the most tumultuous and interesting era in 5000 years of China. Of course he was a prick.


72 responses to “Tales from the patriarchy

  1. Pingback: Tales from the patriarchy | @the_arv

  2. Jim-Bob February 20, 2018 at 17:34

    Can you forsee a time when Chinese leadership begins dressing in those ancient Chinese cultural outfits again, or at least modern versions of them? It strikes me as odd that a country as insular and proud as China would have leaders that all wear Western business suits. It seems to me that as they gain international power and prestige there may come a time when they no longer want to dress like Westerners and may even look back at this period when they did with some embarrassment.

    • spandrell February 20, 2018 at 17:50

      I’ve thought that for quite some time. I find Arab garb quite ugly but I respect them wearing it.

      In Japan is common for women to wear traditional clothing while men wear suits. In China less so, them having broken their tradition once after 1644, but there are increasing numbers of traditional clothing clubs who do outdoors activities to gather attention.

      As of now, if Chinese politicians ever start dressing differently, they’ll adopt Mao-Sun Yatsen style dress, which is close-ish to Qing dynasty dress, and rather more comfortable.

  3. Duke of Qin February 20, 2018 at 18:06

    The Confucian killjoys frowned upon concubinage. Getting a younger concubine was the equivalent of a wealthy 50 year old doctor divorcing his 50 year old wife to marry a 20 year old woman. Legal but still declasse.

    Quora used to be better. Indians killed it. The Wests’ (sans the British Raj) experience with Indians has been mediated through their Anglophone 0.1%. The “democratizing” power of the internet have brought their remaining 1-9% English semi-literate population into the wider world and their lumpen intellectual habits with them. Thankfully the remaining top quartile of Indians who have regular internet access communicate primarily in their native languages, keeping their sub buzzfeed levels of garbage and weird porn interests to themselves.

    I disagree with you regarding the nature of Chinese polygamous relationships. I don’t think they were an beneficial at all, but rather a weakness. I think the Supreme invention of Western society wasn’t the corporation or it’s social political organization, but the Christian family. The Catholic Church’s insistence on monogamous marriage and subsequent break down of extended clan patronage networks was what made everything else possible. Then again, a few hundred years from now empirical evidence may show otherwise, but for the time being it has been successful.

    • spandrell February 20, 2018 at 18:20

      After Zhu Xi yes, the 理学 neoconfucian killjoys did frown upon concubinage, but not very strongly. Even Zeng Guofan had a concubine.

      Europe was monogamous before the Catholic Church. Not even Greeks had concubines. So those are different issues. At any rate from the Catholic Church destruction of Germanic kindreds, until Europe became superior to China there’s 1200 years of time. You’re telling me China sucked on the meantime? Come on. Let China be China and Europe be Europe.

      • Candide III February 20, 2018 at 20:48

        Greeks had concubines. Demosthenes said in 4th century BC, “We have hetaerae for pleasure, pallakae [concubines] to care for our daily body’s needs and gynaekes [wives] to bear us legitimate children and to be faithful guardians of our households.” Monogamy was about wives. Note that pallakae weren’t common prostitutes, those were a separate class called pornai.

        • spandrell February 20, 2018 at 21:17

          Yeah, true, female slaves. Those were a thing in Rome too. Not quite the same as a 妾 but ok.
          When did that stop being a thing?

          • Candide III February 20, 2018 at 23:11

            I don’t know, but somehow doubt that these customs went away in the Hellenistic period. If anything, Alexander’s empire introduced more “Eastern” customs. Ptolemies were of Greek/Macedonian origin and yet look at their family tree. My guess is that slave-concubines stopped being a thing in Greece when Christianity became powerful – III c. AD perhaps? Rome was peculiar for having several different marriage systems running in parallel, at least legally – marriage cum manu by confarreatio, originally used by patricians (but later also by plebeians), marriage cum manu by coemptio, originally used by plebeians, marriage cum manu by usus, used by lower classes, then forms of marriage sine manu which came to replace stricter forms by late Republican period, and concubinage proper. However these were all mutually exclusive: a Roman could not legally have a wife and a concubine, and both in Rome and in Greece only the children begotten upon the legal wife were legitimate – a big difference from China, where as I understand multiple wives’ issue had equal legal status. To what extent were female slaves in Rome equivalent to Greek pallakae, again I don’t know, but apparently Romans didn’t think much of men who satisfied their desires with their slaves (Horace, Satires I.2).

            • spandrell February 21, 2018 at 00:03

              There was a difference between children by the primary wife (嫡子) and the others (庶子), but the law in China got flexible over time. In theory they couldn’t inherit, but they often did, and politically of course they did inherit titles if there were no legitimate sons.

              • Candide III February 21, 2018 at 09:15

                So the system was similar at first, but as you say got flexible over time in a different direction from Greece and Rome, where instead of Chinese de-facto polygyny the distinction between legitimate and illegitimate children remained but divorce and remarriage assumed modern frequency and normalcy.

                • spandrell February 21, 2018 at 19:18

                  It would be fun if it turns out the Shang were Aryan charioteers, and the old style rites are all descended from their warrior-band ethos.

                  • Chad February 26, 2018 at 05:34

                    Well if they were during that time period and they were charioteers, then they were Aryans. It took a surprisingly long time for lesser peoples to figure out the wheel. It’s claimed that the wheel appeared simultaneously in a bunch of places, or alternatively that the invention spread like wildfire, but if you read between the lines you realize that the entire early appearance was the product of one titanic conquest.

              • Daniel Chieh February 27, 2018 at 16:01

                Weren’t all children legally considered as descended from the primary wife?

        • Seth Largo (@SethLargo) February 22, 2018 at 22:13

          I wonder where all the pretty Athenian schoolboys fit into the classes of pleasure-givers.

          From the Phaedrus: “Once upon a time there was a fair boy, or, more properly speaking, a youth; he was very fair and had a great many lovers.”

          Plato, of course, disapproved of man-boy love:

          “But what pleasure or consolation can the beloved be receiving all this time? Must he not feel the extremity of disgust when he looks at an old shrivelled face and the remainder to match, which even in a description is disagreeable, and quite detestable when he is forced into daily contact with his lover; moreover he is jealously watched and guarded against everything and everybody . . . .

          . . . . Consider this, fair youth, and know that in the friendship of the lover there is no real kindness; he has an appetite and wants to feed upon you.”

      • lalit February 25, 2018 at 00:08

        Spandrell, you’re arguing with a Christian. Even though he denies it.

        • spandrell February 25, 2018 at 02:30

          A lapsed one, I guess. South-Chinese Christianity is really shallow.

          • Duke of Qin February 25, 2018 at 15:04

            Lalit is just projecting his religious fixations on others. If all your enemies are religious ones, Christists (A term the Hindu is fond of) and Muslims, then ipso facto any one who opposes you must be one of the above. I’ve never been a Christian and I’m a Dongbei ren with ancestral roots in Shandong. Farthest South I’ve been is Nanjing and no real desire to go further.

            I do dislike Chinese Christianity though. The only communities I’m familiar with are just big social clubs to gossip and show off how rich they are to their peers and I suspect are just hidden vectors for Liberal subversion for the rare true believer. If they were taking the fight to the Muslims I’d be impressed but like in South Korea it’s just a bigger network for more status signaling.

            • spandrell February 25, 2018 at 18:02

              Man, Dongbei is dying. The demographics are really bad. Any family over there? What do they say.
              Agreed on Asian Christianity. I can’t be bothered to care about it. It’ll fizzle out as soon as the last American GI goes home.

              • Duke of Qin February 25, 2018 at 19:06

                Plenty. Dongbei isn’t that bad or at least my neck of the woods in Southern Liaoning is doing OK. The area was highly Sovietized for lack of a better word and shares a lot in common with Eastern Europe, including the really low birth rates driven in part by young people moving to other provinces for work. Too much state owned industry but little state spending. However, it’s actually a pleasant place to live if you want to avoid the rest of the rat race.

          • lalit February 25, 2018 at 21:17

            I don’t think the Taiping rebellion was shallow at all. And that happened in South China. The CCP is smart to try to keep Christianity on a leash with all their church demolitions and making Vaitcan bishops kowtow to their demands. I can see why you admire the Chinese. I myself can’t help admiring them, Grudging though it might be.

            Even if Duke of Qin might be a lapsed Xtian, I can see vestiges of him being a Xtian Sympathizer. As can you. And hence your comment on him being lapsed.

            • spandrell February 25, 2018 at 21:28

              The Taiping wasn’t Christianity. It was yet another random peasant-bandit millenarian movement as China sees almost in every dynasty.

              I had the impression that his Excellence the Duke was from Singapore, hence my thinking he might be a South-Chinese shallow Christian. There are many of those.

              Now I know he’s from the Northeast, a 东北爷们 as they call them, which only makes me respect him more. He’ll come around on polygamy, I’m sure.

              • Reactionary Oriental Libertarian February 25, 2018 at 21:41

                The Taiping was definitely Christian and as Western as sliced bread. I’m pretty sure Yellow Turbans and their like didn’t go around trying to impose feminism (, blowing up temples dedicated to past emperors and banning money. The best analogy to the Taiping is the black death – a combination of the influx of Christianity in its toxic, unhacked form and a non-cohesive Manchu state hated by the Han population resulted in a mass outbreak of leftism that killed almost as many people. If the Taiping had won it would probably be just as bad as its Maoist successor a century later.

                • spandrell February 26, 2018 at 00:42

                  How many concubines did Hong Xiuquan have? Not saying it wasn’t crazy, but “as Western as sliced bread” is not accurate.

                  • Lalit February 26, 2018 at 03:38

                    You’re missing the point. Taiping was very much Christian. The dude claimed to be the younger brother of Jesus.

                  • spandrell February 26, 2018 at 09:20

                    You don’t get to tell me what the Taiping was like.

                  • lalit February 26, 2018 at 14:06

                    Okay, fine. Tell us what the Taiping was like. A blog post, perhaps? I don’t believe you’ve talked about this particular episode in Chinese history in your blog.

                  • Reactionary Oriental Libertarian February 27, 2018 at 01:23

                    Nature always takes its course. For all their feminist rhetoric, the first thing CCP cadres did when they won was confiscating the daughters of the gentry, something which a lot of red guards loved pointing out in 1966. The Taiping’s leftism also gave way over time. However, at the beginning, they literally AA’d a chick to be the Zhongyuan (, imposed full communism, banning prostitution, gambling and a bunch of other “vices” – all of these actions were commonplace in the Reformation, but not in pre-1850 China.

                    Take a look at this and tell me this isn’t Christian communism straight from the New Testament ( The last guy to try anything similar was Wang Mang and his attempt was both way less comprehensive and got himself killed.

                • lalit March 1, 2018 at 17:48

                  Reactionary Oriental Libertarian, Do you have a blog? Perhaps you should try your hand at it.
                  And while you are at it, how can you be Libertarian and Reactionary at the same time? This confuses me. Or is it some sort of play on words?

                  • Reactionary Oriental Libertarian March 3, 2018 at 00:26

                    What’s so contradictory between being reactionary and libertarian? As a result of disparate impact, libertarianism in practice would be indistinguishable from racist patriarchy to Anglo prog leftists. My views are pretty similar to Herbert Spencer and the Adullamites, whose libertarian credentials aren’t denied by anyone reasonable.

                    I do not have a blog. As of now, I still live in the Anglo empire and haven’t aliyahed, so starting one would be poor risk management.

    • lalit February 23, 2018 at 16:39

      Duke of Qin, This should make you extremely happy, then. Enjoy the tears of the Hindus. If you see the Film Agora, the parallels with the fall of Roman Paganism are Eerily similar.

      • Duke of Qin February 23, 2018 at 18:59

        I don’t particularly care what Christians in India do, but this strikes me as a case of the Jew crying out as he strikes you. Christians are a dying community in India because Hindus are big ass holes and Christians aren’t, or at least are not anymore. Unfortunately for the Hindus, the Muslims are even bigger ass holes. Being an ass hole isn’t necessarily a pejorative, as being a giant ass generally gets you what you want, squeaky wheel getting the grease and all that. By being annoying prick to go-along get-along neighbors, you can force others to your standard and normalize behavior around yourself so that others are sub consciously bent to your will. It’s why all Americans are generally eating Kosher food without even being conscious of it, and paying a bunch of rent seeking Jew assholes for the privilege.

        Thankfully the Chinese Communist Party is the biggest asshole of them all and isn’t shy about being a prick. Which is why they can force Muslims to abide by non-Muslim standards such as mandatory smoking in Mosques, dancing imams, selling liquor in their shops, and the re-education camps.

      • Daniel Chieh February 27, 2018 at 17:53

        The only thing I can conclude from that article is that untreated mental illness is rampant in India.

        • lalit February 27, 2018 at 22:49

          Hahahaha! Among Hindus? Or Christians? Or the whole lot? Hindus have always believed that monotheistic Abrahamisms are indistinguishable from insanity. But I’m curious. What part(s) of that article specifically triggered this conclusion?

          • Daniel Chieh February 28, 2018 at 17:51

            The entire thing: the conflictees, the fighting, the pathetic response and handling all make it seem like some sort of limpwristed child’s imagination of a country rather than a real one.

            • lalit March 1, 2018 at 00:27

              Pathetic response and handling by whom? The authorities I presume. But understand that the authorities respond with alacrity when Hindus retaliate against a Church or a mosque. They move like Commandos then. But when Hindus are attacked, they are like Keystone Kops. Biolenninism in India for you. Jim at Jim’s blog calls it the coalition of the Fringes.

              And yes, India has been in a state of war, sometimes hot, sometimes cold since 668 A.D. when the first Islamic forays into India started. So yes, it is a dystopia to anyone who is used to living in a peaceful country with Rule of Law. This is what all countries with a low level civil war extending from ancient times look like. Europe and the west have just gotten into a similar state of cold civil war, what with their Biolenninist projects. It will turn hot at some time and Europe will merge with India in standard of living if the Left has it’s way.

              Not really arguing with you. Just explaining why things are the way they are.

              • aryaavart March 1, 2018 at 20:19

                Sikhs will stop this & christian are not a dying community. They’re slowly turning the entire country christian liberal along with paving the same way for the abrahamic os upgrade.

                Lalit we both know who your username takes after. Go lift weights, aquire weapons & prepare for immortality।।


                • spandrell March 1, 2018 at 22:17

                  Sounds like a plan. I hope the best for your project.

                  • aryaavart March 2, 2018 at 09:05

                    You truly hope for that which you shed your blood for।।

                    If you believe that Death in battle is the surest route to salvation, no matter the side।।

                    Then you are a Sikh।।

                    ਪਰੀਯੈਨਹੀਆਨਕੇਪਾਇਨਪੈਹਰਿਕੇਗੁਰਕੇਦਿਜਕੇਪਰੀਯੈ॥ ਜਿਹਕੋਜੁਗਚਾਰਮੈਨਾਉਜਪੈਤਿਹਸੋਲਰੀਯੈਮਰੀਯੈਤਰੀਯੈ॥੧੬੮੮॥
                    Seek not anyone feet but those of Hari, the Guru, and the Twice Born. He whose name is recited throughout the four ages, against Him by fighting and dying one is carried across.

                    To Fight To Die & To Cross the Ocean of Existence।।

                    SAT SRI AKAL।।

                • lalit March 2, 2018 at 18:42

                  If the Sikhs are indeed as you are saying they are even in this day and age ( I feel prosperity has made them soft), then I am heading to the nearest Gurudwara and demanding a conversion to become a Khalsa.

                  • aryaavart March 2, 2018 at 19:18

                    Guru Sahib has said if you wish to play this game of love, walk forth to me with your head held in your hands।।

                  • Daniel Chieh March 4, 2018 at 07:19

                    Thank you, I feel better now about India’s future prospects.

                  • lalit March 5, 2018 at 22:59

                    Hahaha, Daniel Chieh as usual being sarcastic. You need some emotion now and then, man. You can’t always be Bruce Willis or Steven Seagal Like. No reason you can’t be emotional as well as a Badass. You may want to look up the Sikhs. Along with the Gurkhas, the only other Subcontinental group that the Muslims truly fear. Here is an example of one such from the Badass of the Week.

  4. Pingback: Tales from the patriarchy | Reaction Times

  5. Random February 21, 2018 at 02:02

    How is a polygynous society good for Men? It’s good for the few that get in power, but so is every other society. For every man that gets a second wife, another man loses his chance of any wife.

    In fact, this is probably a big reason why the Muslim world is so dysfunctional. Although, for conquering your neighbors, this is not a bad idea – arrange for a huge underclass of desperate young men, forcing them to invade other lands for any chance at reproduction.

  6. Fasting Showman February 21, 2018 at 09:20

    Any particular works by Wakeman you’d care to recommend?

  7. Pingback: 2018 Feb 09 ~ 20 | Lines

  8. John Templeroot February 23, 2018 at 04:13

    I would appreciate recommendations for history books in Chinese.

  9. james February 27, 2018 at 02:10

    Very interesting thanks.

  10. Sam J. March 2, 2018 at 03:34

    I really love these post on the machinations of the ancient Chinese. They’re very entertaining. Thanks for writing them. Not that it matters what I want but I would really like to know how you think Sima Yi pulled off the coup.

  11. nmn,fdsu90fusf March 10, 2018 at 22:33


    I’m starting to agree with your attitude towards females, or as they should maybe called vajbots, blog owner.

    These biological smile-giving thank-you-uttering algorithms designed to take advantage of all males they can — and lacking the ego strength to even admit it to themselves — look kinda vile.

    • iNmN March 10, 2018 at 22:35

      they lie to themselves
      lie to everyone else
      lie, to a higher extent, to their “Loved one”

      robot-spout-“thank you”

      and take selfies

      Let’s celebrate them more! I mean, there’s so much to celebrate.

    • spandrell March 10, 2018 at 23:17

      Nothing more hostile than an ugly woman with a low sex drive.

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