Monday, September 26, 2011

Spare the People

In studying my Chinese I came across an interesting verse. I didn’t recognize the character and after I looked it up it roughly translated into “treat leniently” (kuandai). So I looked at the English version in Alma chapter 47. After Amalickiah maneuvered himself into the command of the rebel Lamanite army he murdered the King, framed the King’s servants, and received a letter from the Queen.

It reads:
33 Therefore, when the queen had received [word of the King’s death] she sent unto Amalickiah, desiring him that he would spare the people of the city; and she also desired him that he should come in unto her; and she also desired him that he should bring witnesses with him to testify concerning the death of the king.

This verse presents all kinds of questions. If the Queen requested that he spare the people of the city this makes me wonder how often Lamanite armies sacked their own cities. The Queen also specified that “the people” be spared. Since the servants of the King were the assumed killers is it possible the Queen thought Amalickiah and the army would exact revenge upon the city? Was it a plea to avoid a civil war between the King’s royal family- the Queen and allies- and the leader of the main army? But then the Queen requests, or possibly orders, that Amalickiah bring witnesses of the King’s murder. And the next verse says that the witnesses “satisfied” the Queen. How much power did the Queen have? Was this more a negotiation between the leader of the army and still potent political leader? Hearing testimony suggests some sort of legal procedure. Was a trial a part of a ritual coronation?

These questions will keep me occupied for quite a while. What I can say now is that a transfer of power using the military often involved sacking the city as well. I can think pf a particularly vivid instance where barbarians captured the Chinese capital and the palace women committed suicide rather than be ravished in the looting.[1] The unexpected death of a sovereign often resulted in a mad scramble for power. The Queen could easily use her position and contacts to control the capital and remain in power. And Amalickiah could use the army as a platform to control the countryside and seize the capital. With rival bases of political power a desire to “spare the people of the city” could have been a coded political message to end the potential of a civil war. Finally, I have to do a great deal of study concerning ritual coronations and a possible legal procedure for doing so.

So what do you think? What are your answers to these questions and interpretation of this curious verse?

1. Peter Lorge, War, Politics, and Society in Early Modern China: 900-1795 (New York: Routlege Press, 2005) 53-54.


Michaela Stephens said...

Great thoughts.

It kind of makes me wonder if the "spare the city" and "explain the king's death" was just as much about mutually granting the perception of power as it was about actual power.

Morgan Deane said...

That is a good point. So the Queen strokes Amalickiah's ego by requesting he spare the city, and Amalickiah makes the Queen feel powerful by accepting her reqeust for witnesses and explaining the King's death. I think that says a great deal about their politics and how cunning they were.